National Gang Center Newsletter focuses on gang tattoos

National Gang CenterThe summer issue of the National Gang Center Newsletter provides a basic education on gang tattoos – their importance to members, their meaning and symbolism, and where they can be found on a member’s body.

And it also mentions the Jails to Jobs’ free and low-cost tattoo removal program directory on our website for those former gang members who want their tattoos taken off.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the National Gang Center provides gang-related information and resources to state, local and tribal jurisdictions.

Gang tattoo tutorial

Although tattoos have been around for thousands of years and have been symbols of everything from religion to punishment, few provide the significance or stigma of gang tattoos, according to the article.

It then goes to explain the meaning of various elements of gang tattoos. For example, Chicago’s Vice Lords sport 312, their local area code. And many Hispanic gangs use the number 13, in reference to M, the 13th letter of the alphabet, signifying the Mexican Mafia.

Whether on the face, hands, neck or other body part, where tattoos are located can be important to some gangs.

The article includes photos of the tattoos common among major gangs, including the Crips, the Bloods, the Surenos and MS-13.

It also describes types of tattoos that are used by both gang members and non-gang members alike. One of these, the spider web, can signify that the wearer has served time and is trapped in the criminal justice system web.

Three black dots may either symbolize the holy trinity or a hospital, cemetery or prison, the three destinations gang members are likely to end up.

How to find a free or low-cost tattoo removal program

The article concludes with a box explaining that gang tattoos can make it difficult to find a job, because employers are reluctant to hire those who have them. It also states that: “Although there has been a general proliferation of tattoo-removal services, locating gang-tattoo-removal programs is a continuing challenge for many communities.”

The box then highlights the fact that our tattoo removal program directory includes those that offer gang (and anti-social) tattoo removal and that the directory has more than 220 programs in 40 states.

If any readers know of any free or low-cost tattoo removal programs that aren’t included in our directory, please let us know, and we’ll add them.


New NYU survey finds adverse physical reactions to tattoos

tattoo-376821_1280While most people who come to our website already have tattoos and want to get them taken off, we’ve just discovered one more reason why you may not want to get a tattoo in the first place.

And that’s long-term medical risks.

In a survey released last week which may be the first of its kind, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center discovered that as many as 6 percent of New Yorkers who get tattooed suffer some form of tattoo-related rash, severe itching or swelling that lasted longer than four months and in certain cases for years.

The survey involved interviews with about 300 adults in New York’s Central Park in June 2013 and confirms what European researchers have also discovered in monitoring medical complications related to tattoos – that they can cause adverse dermatological reactions.

Survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to 69, with the majority having no more than five tattoos.

“We were rather alarmed at the high rate of reported chronic complications tied to getting a tattoo,” says Marie Leger, MD, PhD, senior study investigator and assistant professor in NYU Langone’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, whose team’s latest findings appeared in the journal Contact Dermatitis online May 27.

Leger cites the lack of regulatory oversight as an underlying weakness in measuring the true scope of the complications tied to tattooing, noting that the chemical composition of colored inks used in the process is poorly understood and not standardized among dye manufacturers.

“It is not yet known if the reactions being observed are due to chemicals in the ink itself or to other chemicals, such as preservatives or brighteners, added to them, or to the chemicals’ breakdown over time,” says Leger. “The lack of a national database or reporting requirements also hinders reliable monitoring.”

“The skin is a highly immune-sensitive organ, and the long-term consequences of repeatedly testing the body’s immune system with injected dyes and colored inks are poorly understood. Some of the reactions appear to be an immune response, yet we do not know who is most likely to have an immune reaction to a tattoo.”

Most long-lasting complications occurred in skin regions injected with the two most common tattoo ink colors, red and black. Almost half (44 percent) of chronic reactions were to red ink, even though only slightly more than a third (36 percent) had tattoos with red ink. One-third of chronic cases involved black ink, while over 90 percent of tattoos encompass black coloring.

Leger has plans for a larger survey to determine which colored inks and possible dye components are most closely tied to adverse reactions. She says her investigation might also reveal other factors that might put people at greater risk of suffering chronic complications.

In the meantime since the details of how these adverse reactions are caused are still unclear, the best thing may be to forego tattoos altogether.

Think before you ink – and maybe you’ll decide it’s not worth it after all.


Kaitlyn Harger researches how visible tattoos affect recidivism

Kaitlyn Harger, PhD candidate, University of West Virginia

It’s certainly no secret that visible tattoos can be an obstacle to success, whether in a job search or in one’s personal life. But they can also land ex-offenders back in prison faster than those who don’t have them.

And we know this thanks to work done by Kaitlyn Harger, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of West Virginia, whose research focuses on the general economics of crime and recidivism. But among her most interesting findings so far is what’s she’s learned about the effects of visible tattoos.

In a paper entitled “Bad Ink: Visible Tattoos and Recidivism,” Harger examines whether visible tattoos affect recidivism rates. Of course, she admits in the intro, that it may not be the tattoos themselves, but the lack of ability of those who sport them to obtain employment, one of the best ways to keep people from returning to prison.

She used data from the Florida Department of Corrections Offender Based Information System to compare the amount of time that those displaying visible tattoos were able to remain out of prison with the amount of time for those having no tattoos or tattoos that could be covered by clothing.

The data was for all inmates released from Florida facilities during 2008, 2009 and 2010 – a total of 97,156 people, with 88% of the sample male, 50% white, 46% black and 3.6% Hispanic. It included not just such demographic data as gender, race and age, and a list of offenses, but also information on the type and body location of all of the inmates’ tattoos.

While 22% of Harger’s sample population had visible tattoos on their head, face, neck or hands, 63% had them on any of those places plus their arms or legs. Arm and leg tattoos would be visible if the person was wearing a T-shirt or shorts, which might be the case in certain jobs, including construction worker or a lifeguard.

What she found was that the expected length of time between release and reincarceration for inmates with tattoos in general was 32.4% less than those without tattoos. And the expected length of time between release and reincarceration for those with tattoos on the head, face back or hands was 27.4% less than those with tattoos in other places.

Of course, as she mentions, this could be due behavioral factors. For example the fact that someone chose to get a certain type of visible tattoo might be one of the ways they indicate a commitment to a criminal lifestyle.

Regardless of the reason, visible tattoos are costing states and the Federal government a tremendous amount of money. In the case of Florida, ex-offenders with visible tattoos return to prison 419 days earlier than those without. At $47.50, the average daily price of housing an inmate, it would cost an additional $19,903 per year per inmate with a visible tattoo or a total of about $418 million over the three-year time period she studied.

To read the entire research paper, click on this link.


Baltimore nonprofit teaches tattoo cover up techniques

Adult male adjusting necktie.A Baltimore nonprofit has come up with a method for dealing with the problem of visible tattoos. And they discovered it in a totally serendipitous way.

It all began a couple of years ago, when the Ex-Offender Mentoring Academy and Training Center at Living Classrooms Foundation decided to work on family reunification with fathers who were newly released from prison. They decided to use face painting as a way to bring the dads together with their kids.

“We found the face painter and we were talking. And she said makeup was good for everything. It even covers up tattoos,” said Howard Wicker, the center’s director. “It covers up everything no matter what the skin color.”

She said that they could wear makeup over their tattoos when they went to interviews. Wicker thought it was a good idea and asked her if she would be willing to come in and teach his guys, almost entirely African-American, how to do it. She agreed.

At about the same time, Wicker had found a plastic surgeon who was doing tattoo removal procedures on a handful of his clients. But it wasn’t working out too well.

“After two sessions they wouldn’t come back. The surgeon said it was too much money invested on the front end and then they wouldn’t come back,” Wicker said. We tried about four people but just weren’t successful getting it done. The makeup is a much easier way to do it.”

And now the program has two makeup artists who come in on a regular basis to teach the clients how to cover up visible tattoos with makeup. The classes are about once a month on Saturdays.

“Our staff is on the lookout for someone with tattoos that jump out at you. Guys are putting tattoos right in the middle of their forehead,” Wicker said. “We ask them to attend a session, and most of them do.” Those who do are all ages, but the average client is 30 years old, he added.

Wicker said it shouldn’t be too difficult for organizations to find a makeup artist to do the same thing for their clients. He recommends contacting a local playhouse – like those found in every city and even some small towns – to find out the name of and contact info for their makeup artist. Every playhouse has one. Contact that person and ask them if they’d be interested in teaching ex-offenders with tattoos how to cover them up.

The makeup artists’ skills are really being used, according to Wicker, and they are very much appreciated, because what they do can make a big difference in the lives of formerly incarcerated people who are looking for work.

His organization buys the makeup but asks the guys they give it to to use it sparingly – only for interviews.

Individuals who can’t find a class at an organization can visit a professional makeup artist for a private session or learn how to cover up a tattoo with makeup by searching online, where articles on the subject, YouTube how-to videos and makeup recommendations can be found.

You can check out a couple of these instructional videos. One is done by a trainer at Napoleon Perdis Makeup Academy.  Another was created by an Australian who goes by the name of Nibbles. And they’re both pretty impressive.


Is a tattoo right for you? Facing the dangers of tattooing

manThe fact that tattoo removal has been one of our most frequently read blog topics indicates that many readers may be sorry they decided to get a tattoo. And those who may be considering getting inked might want to think very carefully and weigh the consequences before doing so.

While a Harris poll of 2,016 adults surveyed online between January 16 and 23, 2012, found that only 14 percent of those who had gotten a tattoo regretted it later, it was the attitudes of people without tattoos, who were also among those interviewed, that might help sway your decision.

Here’s what they think:

  • At least two respondents out of five said that people with tattoos are less attractive (45%) or sexy (39%).
  • One-quarter said that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27%), healthy (25%) or spiritual (25%).
  • Half of those without a tattoo said that people with tattoos are more rebellious (50%).

Perhaps even more important than attitudes and regrets, however, is a range of health hazards that may be caused by tattooing.

Among the potential risks are: 

Carcinogenic toxins – Perhaps the most frightening health risk of getting tattooed is the toxins that are evident in the tattoo ink. Although some of the color additives used to make tattoo ink have been approved for use in cosmetics, none have been approved for injection into the skin. Some tattoo pigments, in fact, are industrial grade colors used in printers’ ink and automobile paint.

Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz are more specific. They say that blue ink contains cobalt and aluminum, and red ink can include cadmium and mercury sulfide. Even black ink, considered to be the safest color of all, may contain such carcinogens as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and benzo(a)prene.

Infections – While most states have regulations governing tattoo artists, many people may still get tattoos from someone unlicensed, either in a commercial business or in prison, and they might not sterilize the tools they use. The use of dirty needles can cause such infections as HIV and hepatitis.

Serious illness – In spring 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported an outbreak of infections among those who had gotten tattooed in at least four states over the previous half year. These serious illnesses were the result of contamination of the tattoo pigment by nontuberculous Micobacteria, a bacteria that can cause joint infection, lung disease, eye problems or other infections.

Allergies – Some people have reported allergic reactions to various ink pigments.

Granulomas – These small bumps can form on the site of the tattoo in reaction to the pigment inserted into the skin.

To tattoo or not to tattoo? The choice is yours, but consider the consequences. And as the FDA recommends in its public health safety campaign, “Think Before You Ink.”