How to buy a used tattoo removal laser device

used tattoo removal laser deviceIf you’re planning to launch a free or low-cost tattoo removal program and are concerned about the expense of buying equipment, you may want to consider purchasing a pre-owned laser device.

These devices are extremely cost effective – you can save tens of thousands of dollars. And if you know how to buy one, they may work out just as well as a new one, especially for the type of tattoos most people coming out of prison have.

There are hundreds of used devices on specialized medical equipment websites like and even general sites like that offer a marketplace for used laser devices. But buying them on one of these sites can be problematic. Laser device manufacturer Astanza recommends that you do very careful research, ask the seller for references and search online for scam reports.

A better route to take may be to buy a used laser device from what is known as a certified pre-owned dealer. Certified pre-owned dealers are companies that buy used devices and refurbish them, so they’re in top working order before they resell them to customers.

They actually have an inventory and are not brokers who many times go look for the machine after they have a paid up front order. And it’s best to buy from a certified pre-owned dealer who provides after-sales service or can at least provide a reliable resource.

Save $100,000 or more by buying a used laser device

Buying from a reseller means tremendous savings. “It’s more than half the price of a new one. We’re selling $20,000 and $30,000 lasers that would normally sell for $150,000,” says Drew Shafer, owner and president of The Laser Agent in Indianapolis. “Some of the lasers we sell are older – like 2004 lasers. But if they’re maintained properly they can do all the things that a brand new one can do. I just sold a 2005 tattoo removal laser, and it’s just as good as a 2015 laser if the parts are well kept.”

The Laser Agent offers a couple of guides to buying used lasers. One, concerns why buy used instead of new. The other is about who to buy from.

And regardless of price or seller, many of the tattoos sported by those coming out of prison don’t need the most sophisticated equipment to remove.

“I don’t see the need for a very complex system with lots of color reduction,” says Scott Carson, founder of Oscilla Lasers and several other medical device-related companies in Park City, Utah. “Most of the tattoos that come out of prison are darker and homemade. Given the lack of the complexity in the color and type of ink, you can use older and less expensive devices. The only offset would be that if you’re running it 12 hours a day, seven days a week, a newer system would work better because you’d get a service contract.”

Buying direct from the previous user can be a mistake, according to Carson. “The pre-owned industry (of private sellers) is made up of “spray and pray” (spray with Windex and pray that it works). One hundred percent of the pre-owned lasers we bring into our facility have something wrong with them. There’s some level of functionality that’s limited,” he says. They then refurbish these lasers before selling them.

Buy from a company with technicians onsite

Carson recommends working with a pre-owned device seller that has technicians on site who refurbish the instruments. Companies like The Laser Agent and Oscilla Lasers can install the devices they sell and train buyers on their use. (This is very important to ensure both the safety of tattoo removal clients and optimum treatment results.)

They will also connect buyers with technicians through their network of independent providers who can service the devices that their customers purchase. If customers go to the original manufacturer for repairs, they often have to pay a recertification fee that can cost as much as $35,000. The main reason for that, according to Shafer, is to scare people away from buying from third parties.

And, in addition, the manufacturers offer service contracts, which are also quite expensive – as much as $10,000 or $20,000 per year. Servicing of devices can be handled by independent technicians, which means lower costs overall.

In fact, Carson’s company can geolocate customers and refer them to the technicians in the area, so they can choose one to work with.

Used laser company contact info

Interested in buying a certified pre-owned tattoo removal laser device? One of these companies may be able to help you:

Oscilla Medical Lasers

The Laser Agent
317-570-0448, 317-363-5460

Synergy MedSales


Astanza is one of the few tattoo removal laser device OEMs that also offers certified pre-owned devices.



California expands funding for prison tattoo removal program

Pre-release tattoo removal program

San Quentin State Prison will be one of the California facilities where the pre-release tattoo removal program will take place. (Photo:

California is spending $6.4 million to expand its pre-release tattoo removal program from two locations to 21 prisons and facilities across the state. The effort will take place over the next four years.

The program began in 2018 at the Folsom Women’s Facility and the Custody to Community Transitional Reentry Program in Sacramento under a contract with the California Prison Industry Authority. The large demand for tattoo removal led to the dramatic increase in funding and programs, which will now be under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

“Highly visible tattoos unfortunately present a significant obstacle to employment, and their removal can also signify a new chapter in someone’s life. We treated about 140 women at CCTRP and FWF with more requesting services beyond what the current contract is able to provide. Hence, the expansion,” says Krissi Khokhobashvili, chief, Office of External Affairs, CDCR.

Program will take place at 21 prisons and facilities

The new sites were chosen based on location – to make sure services are spread throughout the state and be available to all genders and security levels.

The locations where tattoo removal procedures will soon take place: Avenal State Prison, Central California Women’s Facility (Chowchilla), California Health Care Facility (Stockton), California Men’s Colony (San Luis Obispo), California State Prison-Corcoran, Deuel Vocational Institution (Tracy), Folsom State Prison (men’s), Kern Valley State Prison (Delano), Mule Creek State Prison (Ione), North Kern State Prison (Delano), Pleasant Valley State Prison (Coalinga), California State Prison-Sacramento, Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran), Sierra Conservation Center (Jamestown), California State Prison-Solano, San Quentin State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad), Valley State Prison (Chowchilla) and Wasco State Prison.

The CDCR has proposed that those eligible for the procedure have highly visible tattoos. They must also be nearing release to the community or have completed gang debriefing (a formal, multi-step gang disassociation process). Based on the number of members of these two groups, the CDCR estimates that as many as 3032 people could receive treatment each fiscal year.

While tattoo removal at the two existing programs is done by a mobile tattoo removal unit, the CDCR has not yet determined how the procedures will be carried out in the additional facilities. A decision will be made once the vendors are selected.

Tattoo removal services to begin January 2020

The competitive bidding process begins this month. The procedure is an invitation for bid rather than a request for proposal. In an RFP, which is usually for new services and programs, bidders propose how they will deliver their services and the price they will charge. An IFB, on the other hand, gives information on the tattoo removal services and how they will be delivered. It then asks bidders to submit what it would cost them to provide those services.

Those who are interested can find out more information and submit a bid through the CaleProcure website. They can also contact  the CDCR’s External Affairs Chief Khokhobashvili, at or 916-324-6508. The actual tattoo removal services will begin in January 2020.

CDCR will evaluate the program during year three of the four-year contract to determine its effectiveness. At that point, the department may request additional funding to continue the program and expand tattoo removal services to California’s remaining adult institutions.

Individuals who start their tattoo removal process on the inside but still require additional treatments for completion once released may be able to find a free or low-cost tattoo removal program by checking out Jails to Jobs’ national directory of these programs.

Jails to Jobs is happy to offer a complimentary copy of our how-to guide for establishing such a program to any organization that plans to create a free or low-cost community-based tattoo removal program. Those interested can contact us to request a copy.


How to Create a Mobile Tattoo Removal Program That Fits Your Budget

Is it time to hit the road with a mobile tattoo removal program?

mobile tattoo removal program

A serious demand for the removal of anti-social and gang-related tattoos is not being met.

Free or low-cost tattoo removal needs to be made more available to those in reentry or leaving gangs, so they can start a new life. Many desiring the treatment do not know about existing community-based tattoo removal programs. For others, these programs are too far away, not accessible, or non-existent in their community or even anywhere in their state.  

Getting anti-social or gang-related tattoos removed improves employment prospects and allows people to become better role models for their children. It also can offer transformation, healing and even salvation, and be the catalyst for prosocial change, insuring that fewer people will reoffend and return to prison. On his American Voices Sirius/XM Satellite Radio show, Senator Bill Bradley recently interviewed our founder Mark Drevno, who discussed some of the benefits of tattoo removal.

The solution: Take tattoo removal to the communities that need it most

Many counties and nonprofits throughout the United States deliver preventive healthcare to vulnerable and remote populations via mobile clinics. Tattoo removal can be delivered in a similar way, but in community spaces or smaller vehicles, and at a fraction of the cost and less effort than a larger mobile healthcare clinic. Venues could be family resource centers, churches, local health centers or other community places.

Mobile tattoo removal programs can also be offered inside jails and prisons. This allows incarcerated people a head start, especially those nearing release, preparing them to be ready to look for employment and start a new life.

Additionally, offering immigration detainees the opportunity to have their tattoos removed prior to deportation eliminates the possibility of incarceration or even worse yet, death, once they arrive in their native countries.

Interested in starting a free or low-cost tattoo removal program?

If you are a nonprofit working with people in reentry or those leaving gangs, and are serious about starting a free or low-cost community-based program, feel free to contact us for a complimentary copy of our second book, Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community-Based Program, A How-to Guide.

This only-one-of-its-kind how-to guide is the go-to reference for nonprofits, medical professionals, technicians, tattoo artists and anyone else who would like to create a free or low-cost tattoo removal program. It includes everything from how to decide the best service delivery model to follow and case studies of successful programs to directories of laser device suppliers and rental companies and schools that teach tattoo removal and suggestions on how to raise money to fund a program. It also includes the Jails to Jobs national directory of more than 250 free and low-cost tattoo removal programs in 43 states. (Our most current directory is maintained on our website.) This how-to guide also provides valuable information to those who want to start or improve a for-profit tattoo removal business.

Surveyed existing programs for mobile best practices

Our research started by attempting to survey all the existing mobile tattoo removal programs we could find on the internet – 10 in the U.S., 11 in the UK and one in Canada. We tried to contact each of them by email and telephone, in some cases numerous times. After several weeks, we were only able to contact a total of nine, five in the US and four in the UK.

Even after telling them that we are a nonprofit organization offering tattoo removal outreach and program development, three of the four mobile tattoo removal programs in U.S. were reluctant to answer our questions and offered very little or no information. It seemed they looked at us as competition and didn’t want to provide any help or advice. Those in the UK were much more open to sharing.

The person we spoke to at one U.S. program offered to provide answers to our questions but only if we paid them a consulting fee, since they said they spent a lot of time figuring out how to put their rig together. Another offered to take care of our clients if we paid them to do so but did not want to answer our questions. The comments and reception we received reinforced the importance of our research and how this article should help many get a head start in establishing a mobile program. It also reminded us how a nonprofit could use their tattoo removal program as a social enterprise generating revenue by marketing their services to the general public at market rates to support their pro bono tattoo removal program.

Charging market rates to the general public could help to support pro bono offering

The tattoo removal market is a rapidly-growing industry. Astanza Laser’s guidelines for tattoo removal pricing are consistent with the market rate. Quanta Aesthetic Laser’s tattoo removal business guide states that $1,000 per hour or $200 per treatment are conservative figures. Those rates or even discounted market rate prices could be charged to non-program clients who want to get their tattoos removed and can afford the going rate. The income generated could help support a nonprofit’s community-based pro bono program and possibly generate income for other programs. Market rate customers could also offer valuable social media awareness and word-of-mouth advertising.  A social enterprise component should add additional newsworthiness to the program, while offering people who can afford it the satisfaction of helping those who can’t.

Who can operate a tattoo removal laser? Is a mobile program okay in my state?

The vast majority of states do not require a medical credential to operate a laser, although special training is required and a physician medical director usually needs to be affiliated with the program.  Always check the regulations for your state to be sure what the requirements are and whether it is legal to operate a mobile tattoo removal program.

And be sure to consult the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website regarding laser hazards and safety measures and how to be in compliance. Pay particular attention to eye safety and make sure all windows of the vehicle or the facility where the procedures will be performed are covered to protect from escaping laser beams that are below the acceptable ocular MPE (maximum permissible exposure) level.

Where can we purchase a laser for tattoo removal?

It is always less expensive to buy a laser directly from a laser provider than a specialty vehicle company.

Astanza Laser is one laser device company that offers substantial discounts and other benefits to organizations providing tattoo removal to those who have been previously incarcerated, formerly gang-involved or victims of human trafficking. Contact them directly for details on how their program works.

Most laser device companies should be caring and philanthropic in nature and be open to offering significant discounts to community-based programs and nonprofits. Remember to always ask about what is available.

A list of laser device companies that sell and rent new and used equipment can be found in our how-to guide.

Options that deliver your services where they’re most needed

With a variety of mobile delivery options, you have the ability to operate a tattoo removal program that is ideal for your organization, no matter its size and resources.

Pop-up tattoo removal model

Organizations that would like to establish a mobile program but can’t afford to buy their own rig or equipment can consider what we call the pop-up model, the least expensive option.

The pop-up tattoo removal program model is similar to a pop-up restaurant or pop-up shop that appears for a brief time – or sometimes on a regular schedule – in a space that at other times may be used for something else. These programs can be offered regularly at a hospital, school, church, club or government building.

With this model a laser device is typically rented. The laser machine is brought by a technician who stays onsite to ensure the device runs properly. You’ll need to recruit a volunteer, medically credentialed or not based on your state regulations (see who can operate a laser), to perform the procedure.

Professional liability insurance – something your volunteer performing the procedure should carry, don’t forget to verify – is required. Always check with your insurance broker to be sure your organization and vehicle equipment are covered with the proper insurance.

Team up with the local county or hospital mobile health clinic

Nonprofits might want to team up with their county health department or other local medical organization, if they operate a mobile health care program. There are an estimated 2,000 of these programs across the U.S. Mobile Health Map offers details on 700 of them.

If these organizations do not have an appropriate laser available for tattoo removal, you will need to rent a machine and find a suitable volunteer to operate the device. Be sure to check with the laser device rental company for the machine’s electrical requirements and then make sure that the vehicle can support what is needed.

The IRS requires nonprofit hospitals to allocate a portion of their budget to improve the health of the communities in which they serve. Fulfilling these community benefit requirements can come in the form of grants, sponsorships, in-kind donations and charitable contributions. A community-based tattoo removal program might be an ideal way for hospitals to fulfill this government requirement.

Modest vehicle, used high-roof van or used minibus, with owned or rented laser

A used high-roof van or converted used minibus allows you to perform tattoo removals anywhere a power source is available or from a mobile generator, using a rented or purchased laser. Removing the standard seating and adding what is needed for tattoo removal should be straightforward. We estimate that going this route would cost half as much or less than a new high-roof converted van.

If an outside power source is not available, the laser will need a generator that can be purchased or rented. Most tattoo removal lasers require 220 volts, but contact your laser provider to make sure. is an example of a program with a used converted minibus that runs an outside generator to power the laser, which is operated in the backspace of the minibus.

DIY with a used rental company vehicle, ambulance conversion or motorhome

Perhaps consider purchasing a used U-Haul, Enterprise vehicle, ambulance or motorhome to run your program. It is important that you know what kind of laser you wish to use in your vehicle prior to its buildout.

Jesus Bujanda of TattooEmergency911 converted an ambulance into a tattoo removal shop. It’s possible to buy a retired ambulance with relatively low mileage. He told us, “Some ambulances from rural areas aren’t used that much, so they might retire them at 30,000 miles or up to 100,000 miles, and they’re very well maintained.” You may find a dealer for one of these used ambulances by searching online for “used ambulance dealers.”

Chris Baker and the church community of Ink 180 Mobile Tattoo Removal came together to convert an RV into a mobile tattoo removal vehicle. The idea for the mobile unit came about during a meeting between Baker and the Illinois Health Department to discuss a new facility for his tattoo business. Department officials suggested a mobile unit. Although a good idea, it was something Baker thought might happen in the distant future. But thanks to the donation of an RV not too long afterwards, his organization was able to begin its mobile unit. Word spread, and soon Baker had received two more vehicles – retired ambulances. He and a group of volunteers go throughout the inner city of Chicago on a weekly basis and have also visited Detroit, Kansas City and Indianapolis.

As a do-it yourselfer, Baker suggests that $8,000-$10,000+ be budgeted for a vehicle and $5,000-$6,000 the buildout. He also recommends fundraising to purchase needed supplies and to get the word out about your program. The publicity can often lead to getting gifts of individual parts, equipment or even a vehicle. Baker put the rig together himself with volunteers through the local church.

Specialty medical high-roof van, trailer or RV

There are a number of specialty vehicle companies across the country that specialize in creating mobile medical units. Our hunt for specialty vehicle companies began by searching vehicle buildout association directories. We figured this option would provide us with a sizeable list of businesses to potentially work with. However, our most effective tool turned out to be the internet, which we searched by using “specialty vehicles and van conversions mobile doctor’s office.”

This method turned up 20 specialty vehicle companies around the country. Of these, 15 appeared to offer vehicles and buildouts that fit with tattoo removal services. We reached out to all 15, heard back from 10 and worked with each extensively to create drawings and budgets for basic tattoo removal vehicles. Ultimately, nine of the 10 provided us with a proposal.  

We have included the information we received from five of those specialty vehicle companies we felt were most suitable to consider, based on vehicle size and variety, buildout design and pricing. Each proposal includes concept drawings, buildout details and pricing. The proposals that were excluded were significantly higher in price and more than what is really needed.

We are not endorsing any one over the other and encourage those seriously considering a mobile program to look further to determine the best match for the specialty vehicle company, vehicle and buildouts that would work best for your organization and budget. Unless included in the quote, delivery, taxes and other fees may apply.

Most of the proposals we received included vehicles provided by the specialty vehicle company. However, each company gave us the option of providing our own vehicle, which we believe could possibly allow for additional price savings, by being able to negotiate directly with the dealer or even provide a used vehicle for conversion.

If you decide to provide the specialty vehicle company with the vehicle, it is important that they have the details of the vehicle you are considering and knowledge of how the vehicle is equipped. You also need to confirm that they will modify that vehicle to your specifications before you actually purchase it.

Each van proposal we received was quoted using either a high-roof Mercedes Sprinter or a high-roof Ford Transit. At 15 feet of usable floor length and 18 mpg diesel, the Mercedes Sprinter vans are the longest vans on the market compared to the gas Ford Transit, with 13.5 feet of usable floor length and 12 mpg.

Quality Vans, operating since 1974 and located in Tempe, Ariz., quoted us $104,400 using the Mercedes Sprinter van, including the buildouts. This breaks down to $50,000 for a new Mercedes Sprinter van, and $54,000 for vehicle conversion. This includes the $6,000 cost to equip the vehicle with a wheelchair lift, which would be used to move the laser in and out of it. A significantly less expensive option for moving the laser in and out of the rig would be to use a foldable aluminum ramp at a cost of several hundred dollars or less. At $83,400 they offered the alternative option of a Ford Transit van. These costs include $36,000 for the vehicle and $47,400 for vehicle conversion. This does not include the price of a wheelchair lift, as the Ford Transit van lacks the space to accommodate it.

It is our understanding that The Finery bought their Mercedes Sprinter from Quality Vans. The van they acquired was originally built-out by Quality Vans and used for medical imaging. After a few years of use, the vehicle was sold back to Quality Vans. The Finery then purchased the vehicle and worked with Quality Vans to re-convert the van to fit their needs. Changes they made included removing the lead in the walls and taking out an additional wall, which originally cut the workspace of the van in half. Watching for and being able to take advantage of cancelled orders and trade-in vehicles is another example of how to save money.

ADI Mobile Health, located in Tualatin, Ore., has provided mobile health clinics to doctors, dentists, universities, corporations, nonprofits and many other organizations all over the world since 1984. After numerous conversations and brainstorming sessions, they provided us with these blueprints using a Winnebago Fuse and a Ford Transit. We were quoted $150,415 for a used 24’ 2017 Winnebago Fuse 423S with a diesel engine, and $107,950 for a 22’ 2018 Ford Transit with a 3.2L I-5 Power Stroke Turbo diesel engine. Both of these costs include a $915 delivery fee. At $5,000 less, you can get the same Ford Transit van, but with a 3.7L Ti-VCT V6 gas engine. It is important to be careful reading which items are included as standard and which are options. As an example, ADI includes standard front air conditioning but lacks rear air conditioning. They can install rear air conditioning at an additional cost.

CGS Premier, located in Muskego, Wis., has offered custom fabrication experiences, allowing their clients the ability to create unique specialty vehicles, for the past 25 years. They quoted us $59,300 for vehicle conversion, not including the cost of the van. Vehicle conversion costs include resurfacing the walls, ceiling, and floors; installing seating, cabinets, and a workspace, electrical systems, a freezer, and the client’s chair and technician’s stool. If the specialty vehicle company allows, providing some of the items for installation can save costs. CGS Premier offered us the option of providing our own medspa or other chair. By purchasing our own $500 chair and getting it to them for installation, we are able to save $1,500 to $2,000 or more for the chair they specified. This can potentially also be done with refrigerators, freezers and other items.  When we asked for our logo and website information to be displayed on the outside of the vehicle as a graphic, an additional $4,209 was added to our quote, bringing the total cost of conversion to $63,509 (not including the cost of the van). There are many vehicle custom wrapping companies that could likely do it for less, another possible way of saving on the total cost.

La Boit Specialty Vehicles Inc. offered an alternative option: a trailer. Located in Gahanna, Ohio, and family owned and operated since 1981, they specialize in the customization of trailers and RVs. We were quoted $90,000-$110,000 for these professionally built out trailers. This price includes the cost of the trailer, and the price of conversion.

Used and less fancy can save a lot of money

Buying a used vehicle and using more modest, non-medical specific buildout may cut your cost in half or even less compared to new options. One example is a medical grade chair which can cost $2,000 to $3,000 or more, while a similar and perfectly suitable chair not provided by the specialty vehicle company is around $500. CGS Premier gave us the option to provide our own chair, and they would install it.

Some other cost-changing factors include installing a room divider, awning, wheelchair lift, access from the rear of vehicle, bathroom, TV or stereo system. Additional design costs, such as wrapping the outside of the vehicle with your logo and information, allow for community outreach about the program and other services your organization offers every time you hit the road.

Besides new options, specialty vehicle companies frequently have used inventory they’ve taken on trade-in that may fit your needs. Be sure to ask.

Used Mobile Clinics, located in Denver, Colo., sells used and some refurbished mobile clinics. Purchasing a used mobile clinic cuts out the cost of a total buildout, though you will still need to obtain and install a tattoo removal laser and be sure the existing generator can power it. In addition to saving you money, this option saves you time, as most custom buildouts, depending on the scope of work and the size of the vehicle, can take two to six months to complete.

Make the most of your budget; ask for better pricing on vehicle and any buildouts

Just as one might negotiate the cost of a car or any large purchase, it is important to negotiate the price of the vehicle, as well as buildout costs. All prices included in this article are from the initial statements of work we received. They have not been negotiated, and we expect that they would likely be lowered if negotiated.

Occasionally people cancel their custom build orders, and specialty vehicle companies are left with inventory they can sell to you at a discounted price, allowing another way to save money.

And if you are a nonprofit organization, always remember to be sure to ask for the nonprofit discount. There is also special government vehicle and buildout pricing, and we encourage you inquire about these deals and any others that exist. Because you’re operating a nonprofit program, you should be able to negotiate a price that is less than usual.

How is a laser device secured in the vehicle?

It is critical that the laser device, which typically weighs 150 to 300 lbs., be correctly secured in the vehicle. This is to ensure the laser will not get damaged in transit or otherwise, and maintenance costs should then remain in line with what is considered normal and customary. Each of the quotations includes the cost of securing the laser properly and safely while the vehicle is in transit and when it is in use.

CGS Premier proposed using a “pan” system to hold the laser in place during transit. This system consists of a bolted-in rectangular pan with one short side against the vehicle wall and the other exposed in the workspace. The exposed short side has the ability to fold down for the laser to roll into the pan, and can then be lifted and locked into place. The pan serves as a curb and cradles the wheels to keep them from moving. Additionally, the wheels should be able to lock and not move, and the casters should be of the type that lock. Besides the recessed pan type floor, the laser should be held in place by the opposing sides of the countertop and or tie-down straps as additional restraint, positioning the laser against a padded wall and/or wrapped in a moving blanket.

Quality Vans suggests inserting a belted tie-down system to the top and bottom of the laser. ADI Mobile Health created a bungee cord system, which locks to the walls around the laser. If the laser has wheels on the bottom, they suggested inserting a bolted lock-in system to hold the wheels in place, like they have done for dental chairs.

La Boit Specialty Vehicles Inc. told us they would collaborate with their team of engineers to create a custom strapping system that would specifically accommodate the laser of our choice with the surface area of the space it would fit into in the vehicle, while still allowing us the ability to move the laser in and out of the trailer. They guaranteed to take full responsibility for making sure all items in the trailer, including the laser device, would be safely secured into place through careful execution by their engineering department.

For laser devices that are transported in the vehicle but not operated inside the vehicle, cushioned crates, tie-downs, and a three-point restraint system are the most commonly used forms of securing a laser while in transit. Wrapping the machine in a moving blanket is also recommended. Many people convert the crates and boxes that the lasers originally arrived in to permanent laser storage. These boxes are already the ideal size for the specific laser, and adding additional cushioning and securing it to the vehicle wall makes for easy laser transit and storage.

Another method for transporting a laser that is not operated inside the vehicle is to create a two-sided cradle out of 2 in. x 4 in. lumber covered in carpet for padding, along with a track rail and ratchet tie-down system (Uline is one source). The cradle is secured and fitted into the left side wall and floor using the same track system. The laser inside its factory padded cover is moved into the cradle and secured using the ratchet tie-down and rail system.

To prevent the mirrors from getting out of alignment and altering the energy of the laser, the laser arm piece is removed and placed in a padded carrying case. That case can be the one that originally came with the laser or a rifle gun case with the interior foam custom cut to hold and secure the laser arm. is one example for custom foam and cases. The case for the laser arm can also be secured using the same rail and ratchet tie-downs.

To transport their lasers, The Laser Agent uses Ford Transits which contain walls that are foamed-in and have a strap system. Take extra precautions — any precaution you can think of – to make sure the laser is secure.

A couple of mobile programs we surveyed suggested having someone involved in the design process who has actually operated a laser. Lasers in constant transit may need additional calibration, making it important to have someone with a lot of experience with lasers be a part of vehicle conversion project.

Other than the laser, what needs to be secured?

Anything that is not attached and secure. The stool can be strapped to the wall, the chair, or under a counter area. The procedure chair can be bolted to the floor, or placed in a corner and secured to the walls. Be sure any drawers and cabinets are securely closed during transit as well.

How is the laser device moved in and out of rig?

In most cases for security reasons the laser device will likely be moved out of the rig when the program is not in operation. With weights of 150 to 300 lbs. per laser, a wheelchair lift or an aluminum convertible loading ramp is the way to do it. The cost of a wheelchair lift can add an additional $6,000 or more to your custom build but we have been told that the Ford Transit lacks the space for a wheelchair lift. A significantly less expensive option for moving the laser in and out of the rig is a foldable aluminum ramp at a cost of a few hundred dollars. These loading ramps are collapsible, and can easily be stored inside the vehicle or in a garage.

Check with your laser device company to make sure a mobile service does not void its warranty

For organizations that want to acquire their own laser, it is a good idea to check with the laser device company first regarding any possible warranty restrictions that a mobile operation might cause.

We do know from Nick Bergman, the director of Quanta’s Quantacares program, that using one of their lasers in a mobile operation will not void their warranty. Bergman said their machines come with a one-year service contract, and they also offer service contracts beyond the first year.  An option we see as viable and many times less expensive than buying a service contract beyond that which is automatically included by the laser device company, is to establish a $5,000 rainy day fund for possible future maintenance issues and replenish the fund as needed. It is important to review any contract thoroughly and speak with an attorney as needed.

We also know from speaking with David Murrell, CEO of Astanza Laser that they have a special warranty program for lasers that are used in a mobile environment. Murrell said that their warranty program is more comprehensive than many to begin with, and it’s always a good idea to review and compare warranties as one of the steps before making a final decision on a purchase.

From our research we are aware of an existing mobile tattoo removal program that uses a Cynosure RevLite SI, which is presumably another laser device with a mobile friendly warranty.

Other things to consider

Diesel or gas? Diesel can be more efficient than gas when considering the weight of the vehicle. Additionally, both the vehicle and the generator will be running off of the same fuel source, and diesel may best fulfill this need. ADI Mobile Health provides an informative comparison sheet of the two.

As shared before, it is important to know what kind of laser you wish to use in your vehicle prior to its buildout. The vehicle will need a generator that can support its voltage, while still running the lights, air-conditioning, etc. To make sure you get the correct power source, we advise having your custom buildout company contact your laser provider for the information.

It is important to have the option of a fan available during the tattoo removal process. The laser on skin and ink can create an odor, and a small workspace can become stuffy. Installing a ceiling fan or using another kind of a fan or suitable ventilation is important as you perform your services.

A small amount of storage is needed for Emla numbing cream, saran wrap (to hold the numbing cream in place on the tattoo area for one hour prior to laser treatment), anti-bacterial and alcohol wipes, paper towels, aloe vera and gloves.

With the availability of medical apps for electronic medical records, you have the option of recording client information on a tablet or laptop. This removes the need to store physical files, although paper files are still commonly used and are an acceptable practice. Review your proposed use of medical records with your medical director or other appropriate resource.

It is possible to create a mobile tattoo removal program on different size budgets

When we started this research project, we thought a brand new specialty high-roof van or trailer would likely be the go-to solution to create a mobile tattoo removal program. However, after completing the research and reviewing our findings, it is clear now that there is more than one way to operate a successful mobile program accommodating different sized budgets.

We are hopeful that the information included in this article will save those serious about creating a mobile program time and money, and generate better overall outcomes. Ultimately, we hope we have been able to provide the insights and resources needed to promote the creation of more mobile tattoo removal programs serving previously incarcerated and formerly gang-involved community members for years to come.

And remember, if you are a nonprofit working with people in reentry or those leaving gangs and are serious about starting a free or low-cost community-based program, feel free to contact us for a complimentary copy of our second book, Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community-Based Program, A How-to Guide.

New documentary D’Inked takes viewers into brave new world of laser tattoo removal

laser tattoo removalMany in reentry are determined to get their unwanted tattoos removed, so they can find employment and start a new life. But what’s the process really like?

In their recently released documentary D’Inked, filmmakers Jacob Tillman and Ben Pierce take viewers on a journey through the world of tattoo removal. They examine the development of laser tattoo removal technology and how it has changed the culture of tattoos.

We meet people who’ve had their tattoos taken off, both professionally and through their own efforts. And some were disasters. Like the guy who attempted to remove his face tattoo with a soldering iron and a woman whose laser mistreatment produced giant sized blisters.

The focus, however, is on Tillman himself – Director Pierce has no tattoos – as he documents his five-year effort to have a full color half sleeve tattoo removed and covered up.

The tattoos that make up the half sleeve are just three of Jacob’s eight tattoos. He had the one on his ring finger taken off without numbing cream so he’d remember the fact that “he’s an idiot and shouldn’t have gotten it done.”

But the main work was the half sleeve, which he said was a mistake from the beginning. “I got the tattoo in 2009-2010. I knew instantly when I got the very last one that I wanted it removed, so in 2011 I started doing research and discovered there weren’t that many places out there (doing removals) at the time.

“After a lot of research, we ended up at Rethink the Ink in Denver with the Quanta laser.” For the next 3-1/2 years Tillman flew to Denver for the 16 treatments required and after that looked for a tattoo artist to do a cover-up. He found that person in San Diego.

In addition to the footage of some of his many treatments, the film includes Interviews with dozens of tattoo artists and laser technology industry leaders. The interviews highlight the fact that tattoo removal is becoming a totally acceptable practice – although for the clients, it’s a long and painful process.

Reasons Tillman and Pierce decided to make D’Inked

So why did they decide to make a documentary?

“There are a lot of reasons,” Tillman says. “I felt if I was going through this I wanted something positive to come out of it. I thought people would see the film and say it’s an incredible transformation.”

He also wants to warn people of the problems that can arise. The people doing tattoo removals can make a mistake and turn the laser up high enough to scar you. And a lot of doctors are using lasers that are for hair removal but turn them up as well, he says.

So you have to be very selective in who you choose to do a removal. “It’s the same process as finding a tattoo artist. You have to look around and find one who will do a good job for you,” Tillman says. “You have to make sure they’re using the proper equipment and have had a lot of clients in the past.”

The two men became so interested in the process of tattoo removal that they both got certified to do the procedures themselves. They took the course at Denver’s A Laser Academy, co-founded by Victor Beyer, who did Tillman’s tattoo removal.

Lessons learned

There were many things that Tillman and Pierce learned from making this movie:

Tillman:  If people are at a crossroads for wanting something removed, the technology has caught up and there is a way to do it. The industry has changed so much, and people are more receptive to it. There are tattoo shops that are also tattoo removal shops so they work hand in hand.

Pierce: We’re both very surprised at how accepting tattoo artists are of tattoo removal. It’s a reversal of what they do. Most of the artists we met – over 30 – have had some sort of removal themselves. They ran out of space on their bodies and wanted to do something different, so they had to remove what was already there. The acceptance of tattoo removal has to start with the artists if it’s going to be acceptable in society.

And the tattoo artists are very approachable. They’re some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and the culture of tattoos is a culture of love. Every person we met enjoys giving tattoos and getting tattoos. It’s a warm and welcoming culture.

Where to see D’Inked

The film was released on Amazon Prime late last year. It is also on YouTube and will be released on iTunes in June. The filmmakers appeared at the Covellite International Film Festival in Butte, Montana, in September and are applying to participate in more film festivals. They also hope to show D’Inked in many of the cities where they filmed. These include San Diego, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Denver.

If you’re in reentry and would like to have your own tattoos removed, check out the Jails to Jobs national directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs to find out if there is one in your areas.

Donate your used tattoo removal laser device to Jails to Jobs

used tattoo removal laser deviceAre you a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, hospital, tattoo artist or anyone else who provides tattoo removal treatments? Are you planning to replace your tattoo removal laser device with a newer model?

If so, consider donating your device to Jails to Jobs.

We help community-based organizations acquire laser devices so they may establish or expand a program to provide free or low-cost tattoo removal services to those with visible gang-related, hate or anti-social tattoos or victims of human trafficking who have been tattooed against their will. There are many organizations out there that would like to do this but can’t afford the price of a tattoo removal laser device.

And that’s where you could come in. By donating your device to Jails to Jobs, you will receive a tax deduction.

You will also have the satisfaction of being involved in something that can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others and on a community. Outside In, a Portland, Ore., program that provides health and social services for homeless and other marginalized youth, for example, was able to start its very successful tattoo removal program with a single donated laser device.

What’s acceptable

Any tattoo removal laser device in working condition. Older models are fine if they have been properly maintained.

Your donation will be tax-deductible

Jails to Jobs is a 501(C)3 public charity, and donations are tax deductible. (Nonprofit hospitals may be able to use a donation to help meet their community benefits requirement). We supply donors with a letter that includes the details of the equipment donated and our IRS tax I.D. We don’t include the value of your donation. You must work with your accountant to establish how much it is worth, but we can refer you to a few websites for used equipment –, and – and related companies to help in establishing a fair market value.

If you’d like to be involved in helping those with visible gang-related, anti-social or hate tattoos – or victims of human trafficking with tattoos that remind them of their unhappy past – get them removed, please contact us. You will be instrumental in assisting motivated individuals as they begin to turn their lives around, find employment and become contributing members of society.


Redemption Ink partners with Jails to Jobs to get more tattoo shops involved with tattoo removal


Redemption Ink

Dave Cutlip of Redemption Ink creates a cover-up tattoo.

Southside Tattoo of Baltimore launched Redemption Ink, a free tattoo cover-up program for hate and gang-related tattoos, in January. And it’s working with Jails to Jobs to refer potential clients in other parts of the country to free or low-cost tattoo removal programs.

Already they’ve done 22 cover-ups – not a small task considering each session can take four or five hours – and created a sister shop program to recruit other tattoo shops to do free tattoo cover-ups or removals.

It all began in a rather serendipitous way. A man, who was waiting for a pizza at the restaurant next door, dropped in to ask if they could cover up his Black Guerilla Family, a prison gang, tattoo. Because it was too big, shop owner and tattoo artist Dave Cutlip said he couldn’t do it.

But after the guy left, Dave’s wife said that maybe they could do it for other people and put a notice on Facebook that they would cover up hate and gang-related tattoos for free. And it went viral. 22 Words picked up the story, and it’s been viewed more than 29 million times.

That was in January and that’s when the emails from the media and potential clients started pouring in. Redemption Ink has gotten fan mail from as far away as New Zealand and a request for a procedure from someone in Nepal. They’ve been on Good Morning America and Japanese television, among other media appearances.

Redemption Ink has had thousands of requests for free cover-ups

As for clients, “We have thousands of requests but have approved hundreds. If we were just doing cover-ups it would take us the rest of our lives,” says Dave Ente, who handles requests and media for Redemption Ink.

There are certain criteria in order for a tattoo to be eligible for a free cover-up. If it’s gang-related, it has to be a tattoo for an actual gang, and they have resources to check if it is. Racist tattoos have to be determined to be truly racist rather than portraying southern heritage. A heart with a Confederate flag and the words “White Power” would count. The same tattoo design that says “Dixie Girl” wouldn’t.

Applicants are also asked to tell the story of their tattoo and why they decided to get it, as well as how it has affected their daily lives and ability to move forward.

Since requests have come in from all over the country – all over the world in fact – Redemption Ink has created a sister shop program and encourages other shops to get involved.  Those interested can apply on Redemption Ink’s website, and so far it has chosen six shops, including one in Greece. One requirement is that the shop must have business insurance.

All applications from potential clients for these sister shops are sent to Redemption Ink to be screened by Ente. Once a shop is approved, people can be referred to it, if they live nearby.

Jails to Jobs helps find free or low-cost tattoo removal programs for Redemption Ink clients

To help applicants in other areas of the country, Ente has turned to Jails to Jobs.

“Jails to Jobs is delighted to work with Redemption Ink. It is welcome to use the national directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs on our website and has been contacting us for referrals,” says Mark Drevno, Jails to Jobs’ founder and executive director.

In fact, Ente recently contacted Jails to Jobs about an application from a person with a full-back tattoo. He described it as skinheads raising the Nazi flag in a similar fashion to the iconic American photo of the Flag Over Iwo Jima.

“Besides not having a sister shop in the area, some tattoos are too big for cover-up. In this case, we were able to refer Ente to a program we featured in a recent blog article,” says Drevno.

“To further our mission, we’ve offered Redemption Ink an open invitation to contact us at any time with tattoo removal cases for anti-social, hate, racist or gang-related tattoos, when there is no existing local tattoo removal program listed in our national directory.”

Jails to Jobs looks at this as an opportunity to expand the circle of compassion and support, and recruit new providers to help create new free or low-cost tattoo removal programs in areas where there is a need and none exist.

In addition to potential individual client referrals, Jails to Jobs plans to refer tattoo artists who might want to be a Redemption Ink sister shop.

“Once these shops are onboard as a Redemption sister shop, if they’d like to do tattoo removal, we can advise them on steps to take and offer a copy of the book we’ve written: Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community-Based Program: A How-to Guide,” says Drevno.

“We look at tattoo shops as natural places to also perform tattoo removal procedures. The community service offering of free or low-cost tattoo removal could be supported through business generated at market or discounted rates by regular paying customers that want other types of tattoos removed.”

“Assuming overhead costs are being met by the tattoo side of the business, the money generated by the new tattoo removal side should be incremental, less the associated costs of the laser device and sessions. On top of that, using a laser to remove tattoos rather than covering them up saves the shop a tremendous amount of time that can be used for additional charity or billable work.”

What’s next for Southside Tattoo and Redemption Ink?

The shop has decided to add tattoo removal procedures to its repertoire. It recently went to Colorado to meet with Quanta Aesthetic Lasers about purchasing a tattoo removal laser device.

“We need a medical director, and the laser has to be fired by an RN or physician’s assistant. We have a medical director already, and we’re working on some RNs,” says Ente.

Redemption Ink also wants to encourage its sister shops to do tattoo removals. While cover-ups are done for free by all, Redemption Ink would like to pay tattoo shops to do removals. Elizabeth Cutlip, Southside Tattoo owner Dave Cutlip’s wife, has launched a gofundme campaign to be able to do this. So far the campaign has raised more than $20,000 of its $60,000 goal.

Whether shops offer tattoo cover-ups or tattoo removals, it’s all about helping to create new beginnings.

“We’re trying to help people move on with their lives. People who have made the choice to not be that way anymore now that they’ve gotten out of jail or gotten out of the gang and are having a hard time finding a job,” says Ente. “We’re able to help them be contributing members of society by dealing with their gang related or hate tattoos. And we’re succeeding one tattoo at a time.”

In addition, Ente says that they’re always looking for more volunteers to be added to their sister shop program and are happy to take on more cases for those who need it.


Photographer Steven Burton helps ex-gang members see effects of tattoo removal and publishes book, Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Marcos Luna, one of the subjects of Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos.

In a unique endeavor – soon to be a book – photographer Steven Burton digitally erased the tattoos from portraits of ex-gang members to show what they would look like without the ink. And the results were amazing.

During the two-year project, Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos, Burton photographed 26 men and one woman, removed their tattoos using Photoshop and then interviewed them about their lives and how they felt about being tattooed.

It all began when a friend invited Burton to the premier of G-Dog, the documentary about Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. “I had just moved to L.A. and knew nothing about gangs, but I was totally overwhelmed by the movie,” he says.

What Burton noticed most was the number of tattoos that adorned the Homeboys’ bodies and how tattoo removal played an important role in the organization’s mission. “I thought, I could take tattoos off with Photoshop and see what happens,” he says.

Excited by the prospect, he produced some sample before-and-after photos and took them to Homeboy the next day to gauge interest. The people he showed them to were impressed, and Skin Deep was on its way.

Photoshopping photos took more than 400 hours

Over a period of six months Burton photographed Homeboy members and some of their friends. Each shoot lasted only about 10 minutes, but Burton spent more than 400 hours to Photoshop the tattoos off of all of his subjects.

He later went back to show the people he photographed their “before-and-after” photos and to interview them so he could include their stories in the book. That was the biggest challenge he faced during the entire project.

“The hardest thing about this book was finding the people I photographed when I returned to L.A. (He was there off and on during the two years.) Some of them had left Homeboy and changed their phone numbers,” he says.

It may have been difficult to find them, but that’s when the project became more meaningful to Burton.

“I take pictures of somebody I don’t know and get to know them through their interviews. And once you get to know someone, the tattoos become less intimidating,” he says.

How subjects see themselves without their tattoos

“But the most interesting part of this project for me is how they see themselves. At first I was so focused on how other people see them. But when they saw the pictures is when I realized it was a pretty powerful concept.”

These portraits, four in all for each subject – a headshot and a full body photo each with and without tattoos – are paired with an interview in the upcoming book.

The interviews, some as long as 2,000 words, introduce the ex-gang members as real people, and bring to life their dreams and ambitions.

“They’re fascinating, amazing interviews,” says Burton. “I was so much more interested in where they want to go in their lives and how they have changed than the crimes they committed, because that’s more relevant. The interviews are about their aspirations and hopes. They’re about what the tattoos mean to them, the challenges they face and how they deal with day-to-day life.”

And showing the photos to his subjects was also an incredible experience for Burton. Although he was concerned that his subjects would be depressed, that didn’t happen.

“There was sadness when they saw the pictures and amusement as well. It was a reflective experience,” he says. “Many things passed through their minds. They wondered if their chances in life would be different if they didn’t look like this. The tattoos reflect the life they’ve been through.”

Even before they were able to see themselves without tattoos, 90 percent of his subjects had already decided to get their tattoos removed. Two of the men in the book have since been shot and killed by the police.

powerHouse Books to release Skin Deep in October

Although he’d like to continue the project, possibly taking it to prisons, Burton will remain busy with his photography business and promoting the book, which will be released in October by powerHouse Books.

The experience taught him a great deal and made him reevaluate his first impressions of people who may, at first glance, look very different from others. And his tattooed subjects inspired him.

“I learned about the incredible courage it takes to change your life. If these people can do what they do, then we have no excuses. They come from a pretty abusive background, and to actually change themselves and find work is incredibly humbling,” he says. “But mainly, I learned that they’re human beings like everyone else.”

When published this fall, Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos will be available on Burton’s website, and through powerHouse Books, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Tattoo removal: The view from a former warden of the Supermax Federal Prison


Bob Hood

Bob Hood, former warden of the Supermax Federal Prison.

It’s a mystery to us why there aren’t more pre-release tattoo removal programs. And we’re not the only ones to question this lack of a service that could do so much to help those getting out of prison start a new life.

In a recent interview we found that Bob Hood feels the same way. With 34 years of experience in the corrections field, Hood has played a variety of roles, including being warden of the “Supermax”Federal Prison in Colorado. Supermax is the most secure federal penitentiary in the nation and the place where Al Qaeda terrorists, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, the Unabomber, Cartel leaders and organized crime figures are locked up.

Here’s what Hood had to say (edited for brevity):

From your own experience, how do prisoners view tattoos?

To begin with, about 75% of inmates overall have tattoos. Inside the facility it’s almost like their resume or business card. They’ll either connect with a gang or just have some razor wire around their neck. They make their own tattoos within the prison so they can assimilate, but as they get closer to a pre-release class where they’re looking for a job they think, “Why that was pretty stupid.”

Besides being able to get a job when they get out, why should inmates consider getting their tattoos removed?

Even those in for life can benefit from tattoo removal. You can do (tattoo removal on) a person doing a multi-life sentence who may never see daylight. Maybe the guy looking in the mirror will no longer see the tear drop or “love and hate” on his knuckles. He may never get out but would like to demonstrate that he’s changing. Tattoo removal should be a choice, and it shouldn’t just be for the guys going out the door.

How can you convince them not to get prison tattoos in the first place?

Be proactive and take photos of people and computerize tattoos on them. Then say to the inmate who just came into the prison, “You want to blend in? You want to be tough? Let’s show you what it looks like. You might think about it. You may not want to get the tattoos. What are the good things you want to retain, and one of them would be a visible-tattoo-free body.”

You refer to tattoo removal as the missing piece of the reentry puzzle. Is anything being done to bring that piece into play?

People are realizing you can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Even the old school is saying, “Hey, we have to do something different.” Tattoo removal was never part of the puzzle. The correction system says you get the guy through assessment and tell them they have to get their GED, do the classes, study alternatives to violence. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have a harder time if you have the ugliness of socially unacceptable tattoos. People are taking all the courses, but if they go into a normal work environment and have KKK on their forehead, it will stop them from getting a job.

How can correctional facilities be encouraged to establish pre-release tattoo-removal programs?

All local, state, and federal correctional institutions have Admission & Orientation (A&O) programs for new inmates (names for the program may vary). Prior to release, institutions have some form of pre-release programming. Correctional administrators should be encouraged to include information about tattoo removal programs in existing A&O and pre-release curriculum. Specific action steps for administrators may include:

  • Providing a sample lesson plan on the topic of tattoo removal.
  • Offer relevant statistical information and testimonies.
  • Identify current pre-release programs as models.
  • Determine what companies offer tattoo removal in their geographic area.
  • Offer names of national companies (like Quanta) that are supporting the movement to remove visible tattoos.
  • Suggest what location within their agency to start a pilot program (medical institution, release center, etc.).
  • Provide a cost analysis (average cost of individual tattoo removal compared to other release programs).
  • Describe the benefits of removing visible tattoos for offenders not scheduled to release soon (as part of their gang management/behavior control strategy).
  • Don’t just push pre-release value of tattoo removal. Removing tattoos from long-term offenders is just as valuable for their transformation within the prison environment.
In practical terms, how would you carry out tattoo removal procedures?

No warden says their top concern is tattoo removal, because it’s so simplistic, but they could have a commitment from dermatologists in the area. Tell them, “You have the equipment, could you commit to three people per year that you would do tattoo removal procedures for free? It would be good p.r. for the doctor.

Also, if it were my prison, I’d make it part of the system. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has an Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. Some of it goes home, some of it goes for Twinkies and some of it should go to taking off those tattoos. From the money that inmates get by working on various vocational programs or whatever, they might put down 10% towards the cost of getting their tattoos off, and the government would pay the rest.

As far as the prisons are concerned, we have to show the value. If it costs X for tattoo removal, it will cost 50X to pay for those who come back to prison.

But something no one can debate is when you take before-and-after photos of an inmate with tattoos, and ask, “Do you think it’s better that this person has tattoos on their face and arms?” You can’t debate it. It’s the least expensive program of all, and it’s one that we just have not tried.


Group of Kentucky friends creates free tattoo-removal program for ex-offenders

Tattoo Removal Ink

Armando Diaz of Astanza Laser’s New Look Laser College trains Tattoo Removal Ink volunteers to do tattoo removal procedures.

Thanks to the free and low-cost tattoo removal program directory on our website, we’ve been in touch with quite a few people who provide this service.

But rarely have we come across a story quite like that of Jo Martin of Florence, Ky. She rallied a group of friends, got them all to learn how to use a laser device and started Tattoo Removal Ink, a free tattoo removal service, all within the space of a year.

Now it’s up and running – the group performed 100 free procedures from mid-January to mid-February, their first month in business. And she’s still a bit in awe about how it all came about.

Three-and-a-half years ago after retiring from a 30-year career with AT&T and still dealing with the sudden death of her husband several years before that, Martin was approached by a woman at her church and asked if she’d like to tutor at the local jail.

“I wanted to say no, but yes came out of my mouth,” she says. At first it was rather daunting. “I was never exposed to that kind of environment and had never even been inside of a jail.”

Once she began volunteering, Martin was shocked to see the tattoos on some of the inmates and thought, “How could they get a job with those tattoos on their face?” She mentioned it to a friend, and that friend encouraged her to go hear Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who heads up Homeboy Industries and who was speaking at a university not too far away.

Inspired by Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries

She approached Father Boyle after his speech, and he invited her to come to Los Angeles to check out Homeboy, and she did. ”I fell in love with what Father Boyle was doing and said we could do it too,” she says.

Martin went home, put together a board, and filed the articles of incorporation and the application to be a nonprofit. Within 35 days it had been approved. Her daughter’s mother-in-law, a doctor, agreed to be the medical director.

A deeply religious woman who attends mass everyday, Martin feels it’s the work of God. “Every time I said to God that I’d done something, he gave me an even bigger thing. It all just started falling into place.”

She took some of the insurance proceeds from her husband’s death and bought a $60,000 laser device. (Astanza Laser gave her a $15,000 discount on one of its machines.) A doctor friend and his wife, a nurse, along with another nurse agreed to join the board. She also got a CPA to volunteer.

Martin put Tattoo Removal Ink together on her own with friends and family

“Along the way I met with a whole bunch of agencies in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky – all people who deal with returning citizens,” Martin says. “Everybody loved the idea, but nobody wanted anything to do with it. I just did it on my own with friends and family and my husband’s money. He would have loved it.”

She gathered her group of two doctors, two nurses, two other friends and herself together, adopted the name Tattoo Removal Ink, and in early January a representative of Astanza Laser’s New Look Laser College arrived to conduct a two-day training course. Soon after that, they began their first official procedures in a 900 square-foot rented office space.

Service is by appointment only and comes through referrals from the jail, parole and probation, and inquiries on their website, which have dramatically increased thanks to publicity from a local television news story. The criteria for clients is that they must have been formerly incarcerated, and their tattoos must be on the face, neck or sometimes on an arm – if the person has a construction job and will wear T-shirts in the summertime.

Plans for pre-release tattoo removal programs in local prisons

The program is up and running, but the fundraising is still in the works. Expenses include $1,000 per month for rent, $600 per year for insurance and $6,000 per year for maintenance on the laser device (starting next year).

Board members have chipped in money for the rent and $10,000 for operations. Another board member donated $1,000, and other people have written checks for $250 here and there, says Martin. The hospital of one of the doctors on her board donated a treatment table.

Martin has applied for $5,000 grants from each of her three local counties and is planning to search for other grant opportunities.

By the end of the year she hopes to begin tattoo removals inside the jail where she volunteers. And one of her grade school classmates, who learned about the program through Facebook, plans to retire and be a laser technician at the jail.

The next step is to get lasers inside the area’s two other correctional facilities and start a GED program at the building where Tattoo Removal Ink operates. That way people can study for the GED and get their tattoos removed at the same time and place, which appeals to Martin who tutors inmates so they can pass the GED.

While she originally was hesitant to even enter a jail, working with inmates and returning citizen’s tattoos has become Martin’s passion and new purpose in life.

“This has been so much fun. I love project managing it. And I love the people we’ve been taking tattoos off of,” she says.

Denver area teacher creates TattooEmergency911 mobile tattoo removal business to benefit juvenile offenders

TattooEmergency911Jesus Bujanda has created TattooEmergency911, a mobile tattoo removal business that removes unwanted tattoos from juvenile offenders. It’s a model that others may wish to follow, and those who do may eventually be able to purchase a mobile clinic from him.

Bujanda, a Denver area resident and automotive technology high school teacher, was inspired by a nephew who had recently been released from prison and had his tattoos removed.

They had discussed the idea of starting a tattoo removal business at a family Thanksgiving dinner. By New Year’s, Bujanda’s wife had come up with the idea of using an ambulance which would be turned into a clinic and his 8-year-old daughter had come up with the name. Six months later he was in school learning how to be a laser tattoo removal technician.

That was about 18 months ago. Bujanda bought an ambulance, outfitted it so he could perform tattoo removal procedures and began searching for clients. He eventually got a contract with an agency that works with the state of Colorado and now does tattoo removals at three prisons and four transitional living facilities that cater to juvenile offenders. And it’s the youth he’s determined to help.

“A lot of kids make a lot of horrible choices,” he said. “I’ve been working with this population for the last 20 years, and I feel like I’ve kind of found my niche.”

Because he’s still teaching full time, Bujanda does treatments in the evenings and on weekends.

“I have the majority of the state for juveniles,” he says. “As these kids get out, part of their parole is to take their tattoos off. They’re trying to find a job, but they can’t find a job with tattoos on their face. If they do the tattoo removal six months to a year ahead of time, it’s better.” And that’s what Bujanda is trying to do – take off tattoos before they leave prison.

Although he would like to “retire” to the tattoo removal business full time, that may take a while. His wife has opened a brick-and-mortar location that provides aesthetic and laser services, while he continues to teach.

“I don’t have enough clients to retire yet,” Bujanda says, but is hoping to get them by expanding his business to California. He’s establishing residency in Bakersfield and working with the Small Business Development Center there to bring his mobile tattoo services to the area.

He’s also taking classes on how to create proposals for federal funding and would like to work within the federal prison system as well.

In addition, Bujanda plans to create mobile tattoo units as part of his business and is already communicating with someone in Great Britain who is interested in having one designed.

“I’ll have all the software put in, the lasers installed and the rig completely ready to go,” he says.

“It is very difficult. I almost didn’t survive my first year. If you had to pay to build a rig like mine it would be super expensive. I was able to do 95% of the work myself.”

Having him provide the vehicle could save someone a lot of time, money and stress, Bujanda says. And it would be fully outfitted and ready to use.

For those who may want to put together their own rig, however, Bujanda says it will take a tremendous amount of research. And then things don’t always work out.

It’s possible to buy a retired ambulance with relatively low mileage. “Some ambulances from rural areas aren’t used that much, so they might retire them at 30,000 miles or up to 100,000 miles, and they’re very well maintained,” he says.

You may find a dealer for one of these used ambulances by searching online for “used ambulance dealers.” There are also companies that will design and produce custom-ordered vehicles for medical uses. One mobile tattoo unit used Quality Vans of Tempe, Ariz., for example. Other similarly specialty vehicles producers can be located by searching the member’s directory of NTEA, The Association for the Work Truck Industry.

And nonprofits might want to team up with their county health department or other local medical organization, if it is one of the clinics that operates a mobile health program. There are an estimated 2,000 of these programs across the U.S. Mobile Health Map offers details on 700 of them.

Meanwhile, when it comes to equipment Bujanda recommends buying a laser device from a company that has a technician in town, or at least close by, if possible. That way if something goes wrong you won’t have to fly someone in to fix it.

The interior was one of his biggest challenges, mainly because the man who he hired to do it got sick, so Bujanda had to learn how to do the work, including the electricity, himself.

And he purchased the wrong flooring. “It looked really nice when I first put it in, but what looks good in a doctor’s office takes a lot of maintenance,” he says.

But in the end, he has his rig. “You really have to sit down and understand what you’re doing. It’s all trial and error.”