We all think the same thing when we hear the term "prison tattoo." It's become a meme, a DIY project (we do NOT recommend), and even commercialized. (Yes, A&E's show 60 Days In featured a tutorial video for how to make a prison-style tattoo machine.)
However, tattoo artist Bradley Montanez is raising the bar on the "prison tattoo." Just getting out of jail a few weeks ago, tattoo collector Jack Le shared the work with INKED.
Oakland-born and San Jose-raised, 33-year-old Jack Le went to prison at 16. While Le got his first tattoo when he was 12 (Viet Pride on his legs) the rest of his ink was done by Montanez while doing time.
“It took about a year and half to complete,” Le said. “We did one or two sessions a week for about 4-5 hours using only a guitar string as a needle and a bic pen as the barrel.”
Meeting Montanez in prison two years ago, Le realized the artist had a rare talent. Le adds that most of the work was done freehand.
“No shop work, but my body is completely tattooed except my neck, head and hands,” Le said. “A lot of my tattoos deal with family and the Chinese calendar.”
While Le’s brothers and sisters have a few tattoos, Le’s bond with his family is forever marked in ink. Le has a dog on his lower back down his leg, for his mom, dad, and brother who were born in the year of the dog. His rooster tattoo on his back is for his sisters who were born in the year of the rooster, and for his other brother, who was born in the year of the boar, Le has the corresponding animal in his left armpit.
“And me, the year of the ox, so an ox skull on my left tricep,” he said.
Le adds, “Brad is still in prison so I can’t wait until he gets out, to continue to add color and depth to what he already did.”