Tattoo (Prison Break)

Tattoo (Prison Break)

The tattoo of the protagonist of the American television series, "Prison Break", is featured prominently throughout the series and contributes a large part to the plot of the show in its first two seasons. The protagonist of the show, Michael Scofield (played by Wentworth Miller) creates an elaborate plan to break himself and his wrongly-convicted death-row inmate brother, Lincoln Burrows (played by Dominic Purcell) out of Fox River State Penitentiary. In order to help himself remember the finer details of his plan, Michael created a tattoo, which also had hidden within it, the blueprint of the prison. During production, the complete tattoo takes around five hours to be applied onto the actor." [ FOX Is Launching a 'Prison Break'] ", "Entertainment Tonight". August 07, 2005. Retrieved on March 30, 2007.] In the fourth season premiere, Michael has the tattoo removed with the help of Homeland Security Special Agent Donald Self.


In total, the protagonist created 24 specific designs of the most important elements of his escape plan in order to form one whole tattoo that covered the entire upper half of his body. The drafts of the 24 designs were found on Michael's hard drive, which was recovered in the second season of the show by the character, F.B.I. Special Agent Alexander Mahone (played by William Fichtner). It is revealed in episode "Brother's Keeper" that the idea of hiding pieces of the escape plan inside the tattoo originated from a pizza deliverer's tattoos, which caught the protagonist's eye. The original sketches of the tattoos were ordered by the Greek alphabet, from Alpha to Omega. [Dialogue spoken by William Fichtner as Alexander Mahone, "Prison Break" season 2 episode 20, "Panama".]

Season 1

The main purpose of the tattoos is to remind Michael Scofield the next part of his plan. The tattoos shown in the first season allowed him to construct an escape route from his prison cell in the general population to the guard's room and then to the infirmary, which was the closest building to the prison walls. [Dialogue spoken by Wentworth Miller as Michael Scofield, "Prison Break" season 1 episode 8, "The Old Head".]

Apart from the various parts of the hidden blueprints, a specific tattoo located on Scofield's upper body is introduced frequently in the episodes of the first season, which the corresponding episode's plot revolves around. These tattoos include:

Allen Schweitzer 11121147

This tattoo intended to remind Scofield of the first thing he needed for the escape, which was an improvised Allen key he would use to remove the bolts connecting the toilet in his cell to the wall. He made the key from a 7 1/16" machine screw extracted from a park bench located in the prison exercise yard, which had the serial number of 11121147. The dot of the "i" in Schweitzer was specifically designed by Michael to fit an Allen key so that he would know when to stop whittling. This was the first part of the escape plan and contained the letter Alpha.

Cell Test

Before taking the first steps towards escape, Scofield had to be certain he could trust his cellmate, Fernando Sucre. He attempted to do this by whittling a bar of soap into the shape of a cell phone and waiting to see whether Sucre would tell the guards about it.

Cute Poison

The phrase "Cute Poison" is taken from the chemical formula for an anhydrous phosphoric acid whereby Scofield remembers via CU, PO and SO:3H2SO4(aq) + Cu3(PO4)2(aq) + 6H2O(l) ↔ 2H3PO4(aq) + 3CuSO4(aq)·2H2O(l)

Scofield made this acid via copper sulfate and phosphoric acid which he then secretly used to corrode a pipe beneath the infirmary. The pipe was supposed to be the final step in the escape.

English, Fitz or Percy

Before escaping, Scofield needed to know which road he had to take in order to evade police on the night of the escape. English, Fitz and Percy are the only streets which lead to the prison. After raising the prison's alarm, he climbed onto the roof to see police cars arriving down English and Percy streets but Fitz Street remained empty.

Devil's face

Scofield traced this image onto a piece of paper and then projected it onto a concrete wall he needed to knock down behind his cell. Using Hooke's law, he was able to drill through key pressure points in the wall, which he located mathematically as specific parts of the devil's face, allowing him to knock it down without hitting the gas lines.

Playing cards 13129093529

This is the phone number of Scofield's immigrant wife, Nika Volek, who he married one day before his arrest for bank robbery. He called her when he needed her to sneak him a card he needed to retrieve his personal belongings.

Coffin with a cross

Under this tattoo, in his left arm, is a black pill. When Burrows was put into solitary confinement, Scofield thought of a way to get Burrows to the infirmary by asking a priest to help pass a crucifix to Burrows. The crucifix reveals the black pill and instruction to take the pill at 8:10 PM, 50 minutes before their escape. It has the effect of causing food poisoning.

Season 1 - 2

Ripe Chance Woods

"Ripe Chance Woods" actually translates to "RIP E. Chance Woods". It was intended to be a backup plan in case his original plan to escape via Abruzzi's plane failed. In the grave of E. Chance Woods in Oswego, Illinois, Scofield buried clothes, keys to a car and fake passports. This was the first tattoo, however, to be deciphered by Agent Mahone.


BOLSHOI BOOZE, when looked at upside down, shows that the letters are actually numbers for a GPS location ['08N,+104%C2%B057'08W&ie=UTF8&ll=32.010114,-104.964066&spn=0.103494,0.181274&t=h&z=13&om=1&layer=t] along the Texas-New Mexico border, which was a rendezvous point between Scofield and a coyote.

Season 2

The tattoo was shown less prominently in the second season, whose plot involved the journey of the eight escaped prisoners. The meaning of the tattoos are not obvious and becomes the focus of Agent Alexander Mahone in the manhunt for Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows during the second season. Tattoos featured in the second season's episodes pertain to Michael Scofield's plan to disappear from the country and his way into Panama.

In the second season, the featured tattoos include:

Barcode 38121037

Scofield intended to lead the authorities into believing he and Burrows were dead. After intentionally leaving his cell phone on so that the FBI would be able to follow his car, Scofield turned onto Illinois Route 38 and stopped 12 miles down the road. He then set the radio to frequency 103.7, which triggered a bomb hidden in the car.


In return for the escape plane to Mexico, the payment asked of Scofield by the coyote was a box of medical nitroglycerin, which Michael hid at the Blanding Botanical gardens prior to his incarceration at Fox River State Penitentiary. The flower in the tattoo represented the Apache Desert Ghost exhibit, where the nitroglycerin was hidden.

Christ in a rose 617

This is a pictogram intending to remind Scofield of his boat moored in Panama. He named the boat after his mother, Christina Rose, thus "Christ in a rose". 617 opens his combination lock protecting the boat.

Season 3

Michael's tattoo is briefly shown in Season 3, Episode 8, titled Bang & Burn. It is shown for about 5 seconds, when Michael is changing shirts. Michael's burn from Season 1 is still visible on his right shoulder.

Season 4

Michael's tattoo is removed using a laser to help prevent him from being recognized. He is offered a local anesthetic but refuses, and we see him smiling when Agent Self asked him "How high is your threshold for pain?".

Production details

Designed by Tom Berg and created by Tinsley Transfers, [ [ Film credits] . Tinsley Transfers. Retrieved on March 10, 2007.] the tattoo, which covers the entire upper body of Michael Scofield, is featured extensively in the first season of the show. The part of the tattoo that is situated on the front of Michael Scofield, contains the blueprints of the underground passageways of the prison, while on the back, a bird's-eye view of the prison is incorporated into the tattoo. Although Berg was aware that visual effects will be used to highlight the prison blueprints in the tattoo, the contours and lines of the tattoo were drawn to resemble the map as much as possible. As the episodes come about, Berg is contacted to create various specific designs for the particular episode.

The full tattoo is made up of several separate transfers which are then pieced together on the actor's upper body. ["Behind the Walls", "Prison Break" season 1 special episode.] Once the area of the skin (where the tattoo will be applied) is cleaned with rubbing alcohol, a series of decals are placed on the skin and the paper is then peeled off. After this, the pieces are stuck to the skin via glue and water-proof sealant, before finishing with paint in the filler parts. Overall, the process takes four to five hours and does not include the time to remove the temporary tattoo, which takes about 45 minutes. When the entire tattoo does not need to be shown, for example, in scenes where the actor is wearing a T-shirt, only the forearm pieces of the tattoo are applied." [ Prison Break star talks exclusively to Mail online] ", "Daily Mail", April 30, 2006. Retrieved on March 10, 2007.] [" [ Prison Break interview - Wentworth Miller] ", "Orange SA". Retrieved on March 10, 2007.] If the tattoos were to be permanently applied, it would be time-consuming and would have taken much longer than the time taken by the protagonist in the series. [Mitovich, M. W., " [ Prison Break DVD News, Season 2 Preview!] ", August 8, 2006. Retrieved on March 10, 2007.]

The portrayal in the 4th season premiere, "Scylla", of the complex tattoo's unrealistically speedy removal in a single extended session drew criticism from "TV Guide". In her "Is It Just Me?" column, writer Rochell D. Thomas noted that in real life, the removal of even a small tattoo is a lengthy process involving several sessions, and urged the writers of "Prison Break" to either "quit with the ridiculousness" or admit that the series has deviated too far into the realm of "sci-fi". ["TV Guide" vol. 56, no. 38, issue #2899, cover date September 22-28, 2008]


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