A Face Worth a Thousand Angry Words

Looking into a cold blooded killer's eyes is haunting enough. But that experience can be even more terrifying when the killer's scalp and face are covered with tattoos signifying violence and hate.

Curtis Allgier, an inmate at a Utah prison, shot a corrections officer to death Monday while he was out of the prison at a doctor's appointment.

Allgier has the words "skin head" with multiple swastikas tattooed on his forehead. Swords and symbols are etched on his cheeks and chin, and the space between his nose and upper lip is tattooed with the name of the metalcore band Hatebreed. Even the insides of his ears are tattooed.

In the last decade tattooing, once the realm of sailors and bikers, has become much more mainstream in the United States. It's not at all unusual to walk down the street and see the occasional butterfly on an ankle, a koi on the lower back or a Celtic band around a bicep. But tattoo experts say it's a different kind of person who wants his or her entire face inked.

"To do it on the face so prominently is very unusual," Terisa Green, author of "Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo," told ABC News.

Facial Tattoos Trigger Debate

Many traditional tattoo parlors refuse to tattoo faces, forcing people who want their cheeks, chin, nose, or forehead inked to seek out "inkslingers," or those who ink their clients out of their bedrooms and vans.

"Most tattoo studios will refuse to do those kinds of tattoos on the face, or antisocial ones. If you really want that kind of tattoo, you will have to go far and wide. … A lot of tattoo studios will be thinking down the road, you're going to regret that," said Green.

The permanence of the tattoos and the prominence of the facial presentation makes some artists hesitate.

"People have come in and asked us to do facial tattoos, and I think it's a terrible idea," said the renowned tattoo artist Scott Campbell, who owns Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, N.Y. "People's faces are such an important way to how they communicate. It's such a bold statement that takes place over an extreme period of time, it obscures someone of anonymity. … You can never just be a person walking down the street. You'll be the person walking down the street with that tattoo."

Violating Cultural Norms

While it's not every day that you see facial tattoos, they are not unprecedented.

The Maori leaders of New Zealand signed treaties by re-creating their moko, or personal facial tattoos. These designs are still used to identify the wearer as a member of a certain family and to symbolize a person's achievements in life.

"These tattoos are very positive. They have been relative to high achievers. … They demonstrate achievement, status and lineage," said Green.

But why would someone in modern America want this branding for the rest of his or her life?

Green said Allgier's facial tattoos are an extreme mark of anti-conformity.

"I would be fairly confident in saying that there are other tattoos on the face that are part of the cultural norms of other cultures, but this individual was not aware of them," said Green. "My suspicion for that individual is that they were trying to violate our cultural norms."

"It's a very telling thing about the state of someone's mind and self-esteem for them to disfigure their face," said Douglas Kent Hall, the author of "Prison Tattoos."

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