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Gang members have numerous explanations for the teardrop tattoo. It likely began in the 1950s in the California Youth Authority (CYA) and was tattooed as an outline to indicate one year in custody. When the teardrop was filled in, it indicated five years in custody. Later, gang members used it to memorialize a murdered homeboy and when the homeboy was avenged it was colored in. More recently, it has become just another gang decoration.

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