New book outlines how to create a tattoo removal program

create a tattoo removal programJails to Jobs has published another book, and this one is a how-to guide on setting up a free or low-cost tattoo removal program.

Whether you’re a nonprofit, medical professional, tattoo artist, prison official, sheriff’s department employee or other interested party, Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community-Based Program: A How-to Guide can help you help those leaving prison or jail or a gang get their lives back together.

One of the greatest challenges previously incarcerated and former gang members face is having anti-social or gang-related tattoos. And the thousands of hits we get on our website’s national directory of free and low cost tattoo removal programs tells us that many of them want those tattoos taken off.

That is why we wrote the guide. The inspiration came partly from the number of hits on our directory. But it also came from the fact that in putting together the directory, we realized just how few of these tattoo removal programs exist and the desperate need for this type of service. It can help those reentering society, leaving gangs and gaining freedom from human trafficking heal, transform and become employed.

Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low Cost Community-Based Program: A How-to Guide offers an extensive amount of information on topics such as why people get tattoos to begin with and what hiring managers think about those who have them. It also covers the types of laser devices and tips on how to find a location for a program, recruit volunteers, estimate costs and secure funding, and determine necessary equipment and supplies.

There are success stories of those who have had their tattoos removed and case studies of free or low-cost tattoo removal programs to inspire others who may want to start one themselves.

The guide includes a variety of tattoo removal program models, from hospital and prison (and jail) pre-release programs to those operated by nonprofits, individual doctors and churches. For organizations that would like to establish a program but can’t afford their own equipment, we recommend a “pop-up program” in partnership with a medical professional, tattoo removal technician, a laser rental company that can provide or source the medical professional, or someone else who can do the procedures.

Included are directories of laser device companies and their products, laser rental companies, schools that teach tattoo removal procedures and professional associations. There’s also a list of potential partners, advice from those who have operated successful tattoo removal programs and a section covering legal liability.

An appendix includes sample forms that can be tailored for use by other programs.

Copies of Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low Cost Community-Based Program: A How-to Guide are available through


Laser device company assists free and low cost tattoo removal efforts

laser deviceLaser device companies can play a leading role in the effort to help formerly incarcerated individuals remove their gang-related and antisocial tattoos.

To find out how they can do that, just ask Nick Bergman, director of QuantaCares at Quanta Aesthetic Lasers, a company that, through its QuantaCares program, gives practitioners who perform free or low-cost tattoo removals a break in the price of their devices.

“We have found that there is a tremendous need for tattoo removal for those transitioning from jails to productive society. There is good data that supports the idea that a reduction in visible tattoos supports a reduction in recidivism. Because of that, we offer incentives to those willing to help,” Bergman says.

“Without getting into exact numbers, we offer sizable discounts for individuals who want to make a difference with this population. This can include, but isn’t limited to, removing antisocial or gang-related tattoos. There are also sex trafficking victims who have been tattooed or branded. Laser tattoo removal has helped these victims, and this is the foundation of QuantaCares.”

Laser device company creates Quanta Cares initiative

After helping numerous individuals in the past, including Dawn Maestas, on an ad hoc basis, Quanta Aesthetic Lasers has formalized its efforts into the QuantaCares initiative.

This initiative supports potential customers who are willing to commit to doing a small amount of pro bono work – typically two cases per month. These partners then send before and after pictures along with a brief background story after the treatment is completed.

laser device

The idea for QuantaCares came from Nick Bergman, who now directs the program.

The idea for QuantaCares came from Bergman, who was involved in the corrections industry in a previous job.

“That job required me to visit numerous correctional facilities in the U.S. and Canada, where I discovered there are alarmingly high rates of incarceration and recidivism by any measure,” says Bergman. “A few years later, I transitioned to Quanta. I had read a few stories about how much tattoo removal had changed the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals. With QuantaCares, we can make a measurable difference in the lives of others.”

Another part of the company’s QuantaCares efforts concerns pre-release tattoo removal programs.

“We are in the process of developing a curriculum to share with correctional institutions,” Bergman says.

Creating pre-release programs

“We’d like to not only provide facilities with the tools needed to remove tattoos, but give inmates the desire to have employment-hindering tattoos removed. Statistics show that inmates who reoffend, if they have visible tattoos, reoffend more quickly. If we can help people understand the value in removing ink from their hands and face, I believe that it can only help the success of this program,” Bergman adds.

Bergman believes that laser device companies should be committed to playing an important social role.

“In my opinion, laser companies have a tremendous responsibility to make efforts that their devices are being used responsibly not only from a liability standpoint, but from a social standpoint as well,” he says.

“That said, we can only do so much. When push comes to shove, it is those who are operating the lasers who are making the true difference and we are doing our best to support them.”

How to become a QuantaCares program member

If you are interested in being among those supported and are truly committed to helping others, you can apply to become a member of the QuantaCares program by emailing Bergman at You will receive an application that asks for basic information, as well as your business plan and motivation for getting involved.

By becoming part of the QuantaCares program, you too will be able to make a difference in the lives of others.



Tattoo artist Jeff Goyette helps others learn tattoo removal

Jeff Goyette, tattoo removal expert.

Jeff Goyette.

Getting anti-social or gang-related tattoos removed can be a first step on the road to employment. And many people appear interested in doing just that, based on the thousands of hits we’ve gotten on the directory of free and low cost tattoo removal programs that is on our website.

In compiling the listings for the website over the past several years, what we’ve discovered is that there aren’t nearly enough of these programs.. Although some states, mainly California, have many programs in all of its major cities, 11 states and the District of Columbia have none at all.

But as the word spreads about the need for this type of program, more people are stepping onboard. Rhode Island is the latest state to be listed in our directory, thanks to Jeff Goyette, a well known tattoo artist who owns Inflicting Ink Tattoo and Removal in Portsmouth, RI, and is a co-founder of and the head instructor at A Laser Academy, which offers courses in tattoo removal.

He’s been a tattoo artist for 25 years and early on developed an interest in tattoo removal as well.

“I ended up getting involved in the tattoo removal industry because so many people were wanting cover-ups,” he said. “We ended up getting to know so much about the tattoo removal process and purchased a laser for tattoo removal in 1998-99.”

“We found there was very little information about this and started looking into the pigments and whether the inks play a major role in why some tattoos were easier to remove than others.“

Goyette became so knowledgeable that he started to do training for customers of  laser device company Quanta USA, and four years ago he opened A Laser Academy in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., to train even more people. He also conducts classes at his Rhode Island studio and in Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas.

The three-day course covers all aspects of the tattoo removal process, including laser safety, the proper techniques necessary to fire a medical class 4 laser, the types of ink used in tattoos, the proper use of wave lengths, how to perform a proper consultation and post-treatment care.

About 40% of the academy’s students is tattoo artists, 40% is young people looking for new opportunities for employment, and the other 20% is physicians assistants and doctors. Very few of them already have any previous experience with tattoo removal.

As part of his tattoo removal practice, Goyette offers low-priced removals.

“We do special pricing if people really need the help,” he says “We won’t help if someone has an ex girlfriend’s name they want taken off, but if they have Nazi symbols or gang-related tattoos, we’ll do it.”

Goyette once offered pre-release tattoo removal to inmates at a prison and is interested in possibly doing that again, provided he could get some funding to run the laser.

Helping tattoo artists, medical professionals, doctors, nonprofits and others launch free or low-cost tattoo removal programs, including those for pre-release inmates, is something that we at Jails to Jobs are also working on. Our soon-to-be-released Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community Based Program, A How-to Guide will give those interested the basics. And we hope to secure funding to help create more programs in prisons and elsewhere around the U.S.

If anyone would like more information about our Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community Based Program, A How-to Guide, please contact us. For those who are interested, it is available on Amazon.


Travis County Jail launches pre-release tattoo removal program

The Travis County Jail has had many inmates interested in participating in its new pre-release tattoo-removal program.

The Travis County Jail’s new pre-release tattoo-removal program is popular among its inmates.

While pre-release tattoo removal programs may be one of the best ways to give inmates the confidence they will need to start a new life post release, surprisingly few exist. In fact, we have only been able to identify five such programs in the entire country.

A new program at the Travis (Texas) County Jail, however, may provide a model for other correctional institutions to follow. The program was launched in early September as a unique partnership between the jail and the Austin-based Texas Laser & Aesthetics Training Academy, whose staff members donate their time for free.

The effort was the brainchild of Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. “He brought us the idea, but it took quite a while to get the licensing to do it and be a traveling tattoo removal program,” says Katie Beck, the laser academy’s co-owner and clinic director.

Now that the licensing is in place, Beck and one of her head instructors travel to the jail every other week with a portable tattoo removal device. Wheeling their device into its medical facility, they spend six hours at the prison, during which they see about 25 patients.

The program is publicized in the jail’s programs area, where inmates go for GED and work readiness classes, and anyone can participate.

“They’re chosen just by request. We’re not turning anyone down,” says Kathryn Geiger, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department’s director of medical services.

The week before the procedures are performed, the Travis County Jail requires that participants undergo a physical examination by the jail’s medical provider. “They have to make sure that their body is capable of absorbing the dye,” says Geiger. “If they’re on any medicines that make them photo sensitive, they’ll stop those seven days before the procedure.”

The jail’s medical staff also requires those who receive treatment to come back the following day to meet with a wound care specialist, who ensures that the tattoo removal site is healing properly. They are also reminded to avoid the sun and keep the area moist with antibiotic cream.

Most of the tattoos are not particularly difficult to remove, according to the laser academy’s Beck. “These tattoos are usually homemade, so the depth of the ink is much easier to get at than ink that is very deeply inside of the dermis. It’s mostly prison tattoos,” she says.

Although the program is still new, follow-up treatments have already been scheduled with one former inmate who has been released. Any participant whose treatments haven’t been completed by the time they’re out can make additional appointments at the laser academy free of charge.

“They’re going to be my models for the classes. Not everyone wants students to work on them, but these guys are perfectly willing,” Beck says, confirming that the tattoo removal program has benefits for her school as well as the jail and its inmates.

Thus far, the program has been an overwhelming success. “Within the first week, we already had 97 requests,” said Geiger. “Even the officer staff has come and asked if we can start doing this for them.”

As the word spreads, more and more inmates are expected to want to participate. And many have stories that tell how important it is to them to get rid of their ink.

Here’s just one from Geiger.

“An inmate was sitting there listening to the presentation and left for the restroom,” she says. “He came out and said, ‘I wasn’t going to do this, but I went into the bathroom and saw myself in the mirror. I saw the teardrops and didn’t want to see them anymore.’”

Another inmate had a different reason that touched Beck.

“One gentleman is just 19 years old. He said he’s afraid he might be deported and doesn’t want to get killed by the cartel if he’s released,” she says.

That’s just one more reason why pre-release tattoo removal programs might be the solution for a variety of potential problems that inmates could face post-release.

For those thinking of starting a pre-release tattoo removal program of their own, Beck and Geiger have some advice:

  • The state licensing for operating a mobile tattoo unit can be the hardest part, so you have to check with your state and see what the requirements are. Every state is different, but they all have a certain amount of bureaucracy, and that’s where you have to start.
  • Look into your community to find other organizations or institutions you may want to partner with.
  • Reach out to laser and aesthetic providers who might want to volunteer to perform the tattoo removals and/or the follow-up for free.

If anyone has any questions, please contact us, and we can refer you to the people who operate the Travis County Jail’s program.


New Skin launches campaign to remove tattoos in 10 cities

IMG_0453San Jose, Calif.-based New Skin Tattoo Removal has created a 10 Cities 10 Days 1,000 Second Chances campaign in which it plans to remove 100 tattoos in each of 10 California cities in 10 days free of charge.

The organization began to raise money for the effort early this month on Gofundme in a fundraising campaign that will continue until the end of the year, with a target goal of $30,000.

New Skin currently operates programs in San Jose, where it’s headquartered, and San Pablo, Calif., where it works with that San Francisco Bay Area suburb on its Removing Barriers tattoo removal program.

‘This idea (to branch out) came a few years ago when we first started out and noticed a lot of people came from places like Fresno, Salinas and Bakersfield because there are no services out there,” says Adam King, New Skin’s CEO. “There are tons of programs for youth but nothing for adults. There’s also a high percentage of people who are trying to change their lives, and we want to help them.”

Once funding for 10 Cities 10 Days 1,000 Second Chances is secured, hopefully by the end of the year, King plans to spend next March covering the state of California, from north to south, spending a day each in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Salinas, Fresno, Bakersfield, Santa Maria, San Bernardino and Long Beach and ending in San Diego.

He will contact churches in each of those cities to serve as the locations for the program and is already reaching out to government officials, especially in parks and rec departments, in the various cities to let them know his plans. Once the funding comes through the various agencies will publicize the event to drum up clients. In San Jose, King works with organizations that include Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army and also hopes to do the same in the 10 cities they will visit.

The organization will use a donated RV, which has already been secured, and a staff of volunteer medical professionals who will do the procedures using portable tattoo removal laser devices. They will spend one day in each city, and all procedures will be done free of charge.

King also plans to take along a video team to document the trip. They will not only film the 10-city campaign but will also do follow up with some of the people who have their tattoos removed to see how it affected their lives. “We’ll go back to individuals’ homes and follow them to get a more in in-depth portrait of how people feel,” King says.

Once the locations are secured, New Skin volunteers will follow up with clients each month to continue the tattoo removal process. Monarch Lasers, its laser device rental company, can provide the equipment and a team for Southern California and New Skin will take care of Northern California, according to King.

“This will also be a test to see which city has the highest demand for this service so we can decide if it’s worth continuing,” he says.

And that’s the ultimate goal of the campaign – for New Skin to open programs like it has in San Jose and San Pablo in as many of the 10 cities it will visit as possible.

“It will, however, be a slow process and take a long time,” said King. “We’ll build up one program for six months and then move on to the next.”

It may take time, but thanks to a shortage of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs in California and throughout the nation, if all goes well New Skin will be instrumental in providing a much-needed service to those who need it most.


Oregon Youth Authority expands tattoo removal program

The doctors who volunteer at the Oregon Youth Authority's tattoo removal program are Dr. Carolyn Hale, Dr. Harold Boyd, Dr. J. Mark Roberts and Dr. Michael Wicks.

The doctors who volunteer at the Oregon Youth Authority’s tattoo removal program are Dr. Carolyn Hale, Dr. Harold Boyd, Dr. J. Mark Roberts and Dr. Michael Wicks.

Removing tattoos during incarceration is an excellent way to help those who have gang-related or anti-social tattoos begin to leave their past lives behind. Considering the effectiveness of these programs, it’s surprising that there are not more of them around, especially for youth.

Perhaps other youth correctional facilities will be inspired by the success of the Oregon Youth Authority’s tattoo removal program. Until October, the program, which has operated at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem for about 15 years, had only a single volunteer doctor – a dermatologist named Carolyn Hale – who performs the tattoo removal procedures on a weekly basis.

Hale had been volunteering her services for years, and she and the doctor who founded the program even paid for a replacement laser device when the original one wore out. She had long hoped to expand her efforts, and her wish has finally come true.

An article in the Statesman Journal, Salem’s local newspaper, last year that included an interview with Dr. Hale  brought wide publicity for the program. Last fall, soon after it was published, four volunteer doctors – three retired orthopedics surgeons and a retired family physician – a nurse and a physician assistant, came on board to volunteer. And it happened none too soon.

“We have so many youth on the waiting list. The additional support will help us serve more youth so they don’t have to wait so long for treatment,” says Griselda Solano Salinas, multicultural coordinator/tattoo removal program coordinator, who works for the Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations and organizes the program at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility.

All procedures will continue to take place at Hillcrest because it’s too difficult and complicated to move the tattoo removal laser device. Boys are brought from four facilities and girls from one. The goal, according to Solano Salinas, is to increase how often the tattoo removal clinic is offered to at least three times per month and then add more sessions as needed.

“We want to help and motivate our youth to achieve their goals by reducing pressures to return to gang or anti-social activities. Removal of these tattoos has an immediate impact on their acceptance by potential employers and society,” she says.

“During the past 18 years I have observed the benefits of tattoo removal. I see youth who participated in our program go on to enroll in school, apply for jobs, enlist in the military, and become productive, crime-free citizens.”


Chicago-area tattoo removal organization creates mobile unit


Chris Baker of Ink 180.

Ink 180 of Oswego, Ill., has launched a mobile tattoo-removal unit. The unit, which consists of an RV and two retired ambulances, travels to sites around inner city Chicago on a weekly basis.

Chris Baker, the organization’s founder, operates a tattoo shop as well as a nonprofit organization that does free tattoo removals and cover-ups, in which he imposes a beautiful tattoo on top of already existing ink.

“Seventy percent  of the work I do is free,” he says. “It’s tattoo removal and tattoo cover-ups for former gang members, former inmates, victims of sex trafficking and victims of domestic violence.  I also do cover-ups for people who cut themselves.”

About one-quarter of the procedures he performs are cover-ups; the rest removals. “I don’t do any cover-up work on the hands or the neck, and that’s where most of the gang tattoos are,” Baker says. “We want people to go out and get a job. In the tattoo industry we call those tattoos job killers.”

Making it mobile

Baker is an outreach pastor who does street ministry in Chicago. He looks at his tattoo removal work and the mobile unit as an extension of this.

The idea for the mobile unit came about during a meeting last summer 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 this spring.

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.

How it works

A church, a ministry or other group will approach Ink 180 saying they have a number of people who want gang and other tattoos removed. He works with the churches to make it an event that may include various other organizations and providers offering services like GED preparation or dental care.

Tattoo removal appointments are made ahead of time, and he has two or three people ready to volunteer. He and his team can perform up to 20 removals per vehicle and have done a total of up to 60 removals per day.

Baker never charges for any of the tattoo removals or cover-ups done by the mobile unit or the nonprofit Ink 180 Ministry. He raises money from donations on his website and from the many churches and organizations where he does public speaking engagements. He also often receives donations from the clients of his for-profit tattoo business.

To learn more Chris Baker and Ink 180, visit the organization’s website at


Jails to Jobs writes how-to-create-a-tattoo-removal-clinic manual

nd_yag_mini_laser_tattoo_removal_machine_nd-506We were contacted not too long ago by a representative from Dr. Tattoff, a tattoo removal clinic chain, informing us that the company is opening a new clinic and is interested in removing tattoos of certain people free of charge, if those tattoos are preventing them from getting a job.

This clinic’s desire to offer pro bono tattoo removals supports our belief that there are many companies, nonprofits and individual doctors, nurses and tattoo artists out there who see a great need for this type of service and want to provide it.

In fact, we know the need is there. Our directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal clinics, which we launched last spring on our webste, along with the blog articles we’ve written about tattoo removal, get far and away the greatest number of hits of any subject we have ever written about. And they get many hits on a daily basis.

Our directory has more than 140 clinics in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Although more than 40% are in California, we’re hearing from people across the country about what they’re doing and that they want to be included in the directory. We are confident as time goes by more and more programs throughout the U.S. will be added to our directory.

Because there is such an interest in this subject, we have decided to write a manual on how to set up a free or low cost tattoo removal clinic or program. We’re hoping it will serve as a resource for anyone who might be interested in setting up such a program. Many of the people we’ve talked to as we do our research and write the case studies that will be included in this manual have told us that they are happy to talk to anyone who would like to start a program similar to theirs.

The case studies in the manual include everything from nonprofits working to keep youth out of gangs and city government gang intervention programs to a Seventh Day Adventist Church that previously had a program in Los Angeles and a small San Francisco suburb that includes tattoo removal as part of a job readiness program.

We hope that this manual will help connect organizations working in isolation and organizations just getting going to share information about the successes they’ve achieved and the challenges they face.

Although currently a work in progress, the manual will include:

  • A history of tattoo removal
  • The science behind the laser process and what makes it work.
  • Statistics on people who have tattoos and what others (including employers) think of them
  • Barriers that exist for people with visible tattoos
  • The process of getting tattoos removed
  • What questions patients and potential patients might ask
  • Manufacturers of tattoo removal laser devices and what they produce
  • Success stories from those who have had their tattoos removed
  • Tattoo removal laser device rental companies
  • Laser tattoo removal schools
  • Professional associations
  • Case studies of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs
  • Where to search for funding to start a clinic
  • Ideas of other services, such as resume writing and job readiness skills assistance, that can be included as part of the program
  • An online forum offering a community to share best practices and ideas and ask questions

If you know anybody who might want to contribute information to the manual or be the subject of one of our case studies, please contact us at


San Pablo, Calif. program removes tattoos, instills job search skills

Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., makes sure a client's paperwork is in order.

Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., meets with a client.

San Pablo, Calif. is the latest city to set up a tattoo removal program.  Although small in size with a population of roughly 29,000, this San Francisco East Bay suburb has big intentions to help disenfranchised people, including many ex-offenders, find employment.

The program, Removing Barriers, is a joint venture between the 10-month-old San Pablo Economic Development Corp., the city of San Pablo and San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit New Skin Adult Tattoo Removal.

Launched four months ago with monthly four-hour tattoo removal clinics operated by New Skin, Removing Barriers has served about 60 people so far, and anyone over 18 years of age can get their tattoos removed. San Pablo residents pay $50 and nonresidents $75 for a treatment session for up to seven tattoos.

The program will be expanded this fall with job readiness training, according to Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo EDC. The job training will consist of two months of twice-weekly classes that include sessions on such things as resume writing and interview role-playing. Participants will also create a master application as part of the program, since Choy hears from employers that some people aren’t hired, because they didn’t complete applications properly. (You can find an example of a master application on the Berkeley Adult School website.) An additional four weeks will focus on money matters.

“We will concentrate on fiscal responsibility, financial management and helping people understand that there are ways to eliminate ATM and check-cashing fees,” she says. “We’re working with nonprofit Community Financial Resources, which has a curriculum dealing with this. One of the things we’d like to do for San Pablo residents who complete the curriculum is reimburse a certain amount of the fees they’ve paid for tattoo removal through a prepaid debit card.”

The Removing Barriers program has no requirements. “Participants don’t need any qualifications, just interest and commitment,” says Choy. “Anybody can come.”

The first class cohort, however, will be limited to 23 participants, but the program may be expanded to two cohorts early next year.

The San Pablo EDC also hopes to include a job-experience component in the program. It is working with the city’s public works department, Lao Family Community Development and other organizations to be able to provide one- to two-week internships. “This will give a bit of experience and a professional reference for those who haven’t been in the workforce for a substantial amount of time,” Choy says.

Funding for Removing Barriers comes from Measure Q that was passed by voters last June and went into effect in November. The measure increased the city’s sales tax one-half cent for five years and then a quarter cent for another five years. Some of the money raised goes to job training and public safety. While most of the funding for Removing Barriers will come from Measure Q, there is also some money from the EDC, and it is pursuing grants and other funding as well.

The program will be staffed by EDC and San Pablo city employees, along with a handful of volunteers, including one from Junior Achievement.

“This is a labor of love. The staff is passionate about it,” says Choy. “The opportunity to help people feel that they might be more accepted within their community (by having their tattoos removed and gaining employment) is inspiring.”


Dawn Maestas removes tattoos to help people find employment

Dawn Maestas uses her tattoo removal skills to help others erase physical evidence of a past they might prefer to forget.

Dawn Maestas uses her tattoo removal skills to help others erase physical evidence of a past they might prefer to forget.

Dawn Maestas, a tattoo removal specialist in Albuquerque, has dedicated part of her business – and her life – to helping those with barriers to employment and women who have been abused erase permanent reminders of their past. NPR publicized her story in late March, when it broadcast her discussion with a client, whose former abusive boyfriend had his name forcibly tattooed all over her body. The conversation was part of Story Corps, an oral history project that has recorded the stories of more than 90,000 ordinary – and not so ordinary people – across the U.S.

A victim of domestic violence since childhood, Maestas broke away from her own abusive relationship at age 28. After 10 years of trying to, as she says it, “get her head straight,” she studied to be an aesthetician. Just before she took her board exams, she saw a TV program about laser removal, immediately signed up for a class and has been doing it ever since.

Maestas knows well the reaction by others to people who have tattoos. She herself has a full-bleed that goes all the way down her arm.

“I keep telling the prison system that they (ex-offenders) can get job training and do whatever, but the minute they open that door (to meet with a potential employer) they’re in big trouble,” Maestas says. That first impression of a visible tattoo can negate anything positive the applicant has to offer.

And businesses seem to be creating even more restrictions regarding tattoos. “The military in particular is getting very strict about it. Also, businesses that allowed tattoos before are now giving their employees x amount of time to remove their tattoos,” she says.

But, of course, the worst tattoos as far as potential employers are concerned are those that indicate gang affiliations or criminal activity. “One of the most influential tattoos is the tear drop under the eye. It usually means that you’ve taken a life,” Maestas says. “That itty-bitty tattoo is just the size of the end of an eraser, but when you walk into apply for a job they might think they’re hiring a murderer, even though it can mean a lot of other stuff.”

Maestas is determined to help a few people who may not have the sufficient finances to take off those tear drops and other tattoos by offering her services pro bono to some of her clients in what she calls her Clean Slate Program.

It’s offered to the first 10 people who call on the second Tuesday of each month. They will get an appointment for a free tattoo removal on the following Saturday. Although it’s pretty much first-come, first-served, Maestas says she does some weeding out, and the tattoos must be from neck up or wrist down.

Because she is associated with a nonprofit, she also offers other nonprofits a chance to sponsor people within their organizations to get their tattoos removed. They usually do this by fundraising through events like bake sales and car washes, she says.

In order to reach more people with her tattoo removal service, she plans to soon launch a mobile unit that will travel throughout rural areas of New Mexico. She’s also been appointed a national trainer for the company she purchased her laser equipment from, and is involved in a documentary film that teaches financial responsibility and independence to women who have been victims of domestic violence.

For more information, contact Dawn Maestas at D-Ink.