It can signify that the wearer has spent time in prison; or more specifically that the wearer was raped while incarcerated and tattooed by the rapist as a "property" mark and for humiliation, since facial tattoos cannot be concealed.
It can acknowledge the loss of a family or fellow gang member; the tattoo is sometimes worn by the female companions of prisoners in solidarity with their loved ones. Amy Winehouse had a teardrop tattooed to mark her distress at husband Blake Fielder-Civil remaining on remand at Pentonville Prison. US rappers The Game and Lil Wayne have teardrop tattoos signifying the death of friends, and basketball player Amar'e Stoudemire has had a teardrop tattoo since 2012 honoring his older brother Hazell Jr., who died in a car accident.
In some cases, it may signify that the wearer has killed someone. Sometimes the exact meaning of the tattoo is only known by the wearer. The tattoo's meaning also can change depending on whether the tear is empty or is filled with ink.
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- Macdonald, John Marshall (1987). The confession: interrogation and criminal profiles for police officers. Apache Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780961823009.
A teardrop tattoo below the corner of the eye represents five years in prison
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- Hooper, Mark (10 December 2007). "Catch of the day: Amy's new tattoo". theguardian.com. Retrieved 3 November 2016 – via The Guardian.
- Binelli, Mark (April 16, 2009). "Life on Planet Wayne". Rolling Stone. pp. 43–47, 73–74.
- Lorenzo, Tom (2012-02-14). "Amar'e Stoudemire Honors His Late Brother By Getting A "Teardrop" Tattoo". Sports Grid. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
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- WOLF, SONJA; Logan, Samuel (August 2010). "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang". Journal of Latin American Studies. 42 (3): 627–629. doi:10.1017/s0022216x10000994.
- "No-one knows why Ricardo Quaresma has two tear tattoos on his face". dreamteamfc.com. 18 June 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.