Why we do this work

The importance of the tattoo removal process

tattoo removal process

We’re in the process of updating our book, Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community-Based Program, A How-to Guide. As part of the process we’re including a section on why we’ve become involved in helping people get their tattoos removed and would like to share our reasons with the readers of our website.

Why we do this work

Getting tattoos removed is an essential step for many in reentry, those trying to leave gangs and the victims of human trafficking. In fact, few actions are more important to take.

Those who have visible anti-social or gang-related tattoos may not be able to get a job. Whether the tattoos are visible or not they may have trouble in their relationships. Or, in some cases, at least for those who have left the gang life behind, tattoos from their former gangs could put their lives at risk.

We are convinced that the work we do concerning the tattoo removal process – removing tattoos, helping people find free or low-cost tattoo removal and assisting organizations that want to establish their own programs – is crucial. We know this by the tens of thousands of visits to our online free or low-cost tattoo removal directory each year, by the clients who participate in our own program and by the emails we receive from our website visitors.

People end up in prison for a variety of reasons, but many of these reasons are to a certain extent beyond their control. Their circumstances are a result of the situation and environment into which they were born. They made poor and in many cases desperate, decisions that led them down the wrong path in life. We also know that given a chance many who have served prison terms can serve society and themselves by becoming contributing and caring human beings.

Many people who end up in prison grew up in communities where:

  • Your Zip Code means more than your genetic code
    The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities’ 10-year research project found that a lack of parks, grocery stores, decent schools, functioning transportation systems, affordable and decent housing, living wage jobs, and in some cases clean and uncontaminated water, all adversely affect and injure the physical and mental health of a community’s residents.
  • Serious societal problems threaten youth and their ability to make decisions
    Decisions made following a traumatic childhood of poverty can be skewed by many factors, including a need to be loved. “Depression, PTSD, anxiety, mood disorders, irritability, sleeping difficulty and disruptive behavior are present even in elementary school students, all brought on by trauma and housing issues, divorce, homelessness, abuse, harsh economic reality,” says Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.
  • The PTSD rates are nearly twice that of troops returning from Iraq
    Residents of violent urban neighborhoods have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nearly twice the rate reported for troops returning from Iraq, according to Celeste Fremon, a freelance journalist and founding editor of WitnessLA.
  • Gangs are a part of everyday life
    A lack of resources and an atmosphere of multigenerational trauma and hopelessness attracts kids as young as 12 years old to the gang life. It is less about the appeal of a gang than the desire to be part of a group that will fulfill what is missing in their lives, whether it’s a lack of attention because of absent adults or an inability to cope with school. “In my work with gang involved youth I never met a gang member who didn’t want a job, a paycheck and legitimate career,” says Lisa Taylor-Austins, noted gang and mental health expert in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. A national survey of more than 4,000 gang members revealed that over 50% of gang members are recruited, 70% would quit if given viable options, 83% have female members, and 35% successfully conceal their gang membership from parents.
  • The student dropout rate is high
    Today in the U.S. there are three million young people between the ages of 14 and 24 who are not in school and are unemployed. Homeboy Industries has found that the majority of its young clients have not necessarily dropped out of school, but rather were “pushed out” because of their tattoos.

The benefits of the tattoo removal process

This is the reality, but people’s past doesn’t have to determine their future. And if people previously incarcerated and formerly gang-involved get their anti-social and/or gang-related tattoos removed, they have a brighter future ahead.

Tattoo removal:

  • Can be a catalyst for change
    The tattoo removal process can be a catalyst for healing, reconciliation, transformation and a new beginning. According to Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries in L.A., which runs the country’s largest tattoo removal program, “They come (to Homeboy) because they need an injection of hope, because they want a job, because they need tattoos removed – but they stay because they discover the truth of who they are and nothing is the same again.” Homeboy currently sees 1,000 people each month in its tattoo removal clinic, removing more than 50,000 tattoos each year. The procedures are performed by 35 volunteer doctors using five different laser devices. Homeboy refers to tattoo removal as “our most popular and most critical services … Primarily because visible tattoos can be a major obstacle making it difficult for many to secure employment.”
  • Provides a new ritual beginning
    Some who have gone through the process of removing anti-social or gang-related tattoos compare their experience to a “baptism, an awakening, like the clearing of a new path.” Tattoo removal acts as a sort of ritual. It’s a ceremonial act of washing away the symbols of an identity they no longer wish to embrace. And it opens up new opportunities: a chance to obtain employment, housing and a life free of violence. And for many, if offers the possibility to be a good role model, especially for their children and young relatives.
  • Acts as the first step toward a new life
    Tattoo removal is often a gateway service. When people come in to a tattoo removal program they learn about other things they can do to get their lives back together, whether it’s mental health treatment, housing information, or job search assistance. But it’s the ability to conduct a successful job search that can be the main reason most people want their anti-social and gang-related tattoos taken off, as they are real “job stoppers.” Getting a job in many cases can be the most important way to lower recidivism and help people get their lives back on track.
  • Heals inner scars
    Being freed of tattoos can offer a new way of thinking, resulting in more self-confidence. The process also creates an ability to release disappointment, disgrace, shame and disapproval, along with the removal of the ink that stained the past of those with anti-social and gang-related tattoos. With new found resilience, those who have their tattoos removed can begin the process of healing inner scars and transforming undesirable habits.
  • Creates a new positive path
    Tattoo removal removes the stigma, exclusion and separation the tattoos themselves can create and can help change people’s narratives about their prospects and communities. It can set a new positive path that includes pro-social behavior for the recipient, whose damage can be transformed by healing and who is less likely to reoffend and return to incarceration.
  • Can be beneficial for everyone
    Providing this compassionate service and bearing witness to these experiences is what can teach us that tattoo removal truly matters and ultimately makes a difference for all. Many providers who perform the tattoo removal procedures say it’s transformative for them as well. They get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from playing a pivotal role in the lives of people who so desperately desire to start over. These people no longer want to be judged by or have constant reminders of the past they are leaving behind by the symbols or words that are inked on their face, neck, hands or other parts of their body.

Starting your own program

Those individuals and organizations who share our philosophy may want to consider starting a tattoo removal program of their own. We’ve published a book, as well as a series of articles that can help you get started. You can also check out some of the organizations in our national directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs for inspiration and examples of what others are doing. And we are always available for complementary technical assistance.