Michael Scofield: The Famous Prison Break Tattoo

Thursday 19th of February 2009 07:55:45 PM [Add To This Article]

In August 2005, Fox Television premiered a show about a man who deliberately commits a robbery in hopes of being sent to prison. Michael Scofield's goal isn't to run cellblock D or work in the prison cafeteria. His plan was to break his brother out of death row from the inside out. The show, Prison Break, became an instant success, bringing attention inmate life and the justice system with its detailed storylines. The program brought attention to prison tattoo culture because Michael Scofield (played by Wentworth Miller) had his entire upper body covered with detailed tattoo work. While most tattoo enthusiasts will tell you that piece of their ink has story and a meaning behind it, Scofield's are even more special. They hold the key to his crew's escape plans hidden within the tattoo symbols on his arms, back and chest.

The actual tattoo on Prison Break was designed by Tom Berg and created by Tinsley Transfer. The tattoo was created using several separate transfers. When it was time to put the tattoo on actor Wentworth Miller's body, the transfers were pieced together to create the entire tattoo design. Putting the tattoo in place added another four to five hours to Miller's makeup time, beginning with cleaning the skin with rubbing alcohol. Then the tattoo transfers were pressed onto his skin and the paper was peeled off. Next, using a combination of glue and waterproof sealant, the tattoo pieces were stuck to his body. The final step was filling in blanks spots with body paint. Applying the famous Prison Break tattoo took nearly six hours, including an hour to remove it after shooting. To cut down on that time, in scenes where only a portion of the tattoo design would be visible to the camera, only that area would be applied to Miller.

During Prison Break's first season, Scofield's tattoo led him and his team through each of the steps to construct an escape route out of the fictional Fox River State Penitentiary. In the second season, the tattoo still holds the clues on how to get the men out of the country and to Panama, where extradition to the U.S. would be impossible. The storyline often involved showing the designs of the Prison Break tattoo with special effects to explain the clues. In the fourth season premiere of Prison Break, Scofield has the tattoo removed to avoid being recognized while on the run. However, the show drew criticism when it chose to show him having the extensive work removed with one extended laser tattoo removal session. Critics said that Prison Break had finally moved into the science fiction genre because even the smallest tattoo requires several lengthy sessions of laser tattoo removal. Later, Wentworth Miller admitted that he actually asked the writers of Prison Break to remove the large tattoo from his character. "It was a fan favorite the first season," he told the Star Telegram. "But then Michael escaped - mission accomplished - and suddenly it was just something that had to be borne rather than be something that could be used as a plot device."

Prison tattoos are one of the biggest subculture of tattoos. True prison tattoos are done while still incarcerated with homemade needles and tattoo guns. Needles can be made of paperclips, staples or nearly any pointy object. The needle is this placed inside an empty ballpoint pen and hooked up to a small motor that makes it move back and forth. While in prison, ink can be taken from a pen, melted plastic or even burned Styrofoam. Because of the makeshift equipment and unclean conditions, true prison tattoos are dangerous and can result in damage to skin and permanent scarring. Serious diseases like HIV and hepatitis can also be passed from one prisoner to another because of the lack of sterilization. Often it is safer to have prison tattoo designs done after an inmate's release. Most prison tattoo designs represent extremist beliefs, gang affiliation and/or violence. Common prison tattoo designs include teardrops and hourglasses as wells chains and the inmate's gang name.

A prison tattoo design tells a story. It often is used to convey that the wearer has done time, is tough or is a badass. According to Wentworth Miller, the actor who plays Prison Break's Michael Scofield, he lacks in the toughness department. In an interview, the actor told The Daily Mail I need all the help I can get to feel like a bad ass . . . On the rare occasions when I have worn [the full torso tattoo} home and I am walking down the street I get some pretty strange reactions. Grandmas tend to give me a wide berth and I will get people who actually have the full sleeves for real come up, thinking we have some kind of experience in common. And then they are always looking at me with a little contempt when they realize it's not the real deal. Also a bit of envy when they realize it's not the real deal and that my tattoo didn't hurt.

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