“Authentic Psycho”

not my image

not my image


I’ve been doing therapy in a correctional setting for just shy of a decade, so to me, facial tattoos are as common as sunsets. For the second time in as many weeks, however, I’ve had two insightful, ink-faced fellas share a fascinating perspective with me.

Last week, a man with “Authentic Psycho” sloppily scrawled across his forehead in Old English candidly told me his tattoo was a tough-guy front designed to keep people at bay so they wouldn’t hurt him emotionally.

Today, a guy with teardrops and eight balls liberally spattered across his face shared this perspective: “In lock up, you get so caught up in the negativity and hatefulness of what’s going on that you end up doing things to yourself physically and psychologically you wouldn’t normally do. You don’t stop to consider the long term impact because prison is such a dark place. My tattoo doesn’t define me. I’m not a tough guy, I really am normal. I hate how people look at me because I know what they think. I’m a nice guy.”

It makes me wonder how often these intimidating looking people really are just hiding a side to themselves they don’t want others to see. A lot of them aren’t the psychopaths we assume. From what these guys tell me, prison isn’t a place where it is safe to outwardly express vulnerability, so I guess behind bars you put ink on your face to keep people at bay.

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2 thoughts on ““Authentic Psycho”

  1. This is interesting. In order to not be the omega man, one must one-up everyone else and try and be the alpha. If you can’t do that, then you have to give the appearance of being the alpha. This works in the prison culture. However, once you leave that culture, the alpha male persona doesn’t really work in the non-prison world, and so the appearances can reflect back onto the person.

    I wonder if these appearances reflections makes one tougher because of how people perceive that person. It’s like someone says, “well, people think I’m tough; maybe I should be tough just to meet their expectations.” Of course, this cycle continues where people see a tough action and then that person realizes that expectations are met. It’s time to toughen up. But it was all because the people expected him to.

    • Again, the guys I’ve asked directly about this say the motivation to tattoo their face was born from fear. Granted, I’ve only talked to the two guys I mentioned plus one other, but that was the response across the board. For the record, these men don’t even know each other so it was independent. The only common factor was they had a trusting relationship with me to give me the true answer.

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