As anyone in reentry will soon discover, having a visible anti-social or gang-related tattoo can be a job stopper. And if you do have one, you may want to consider getting it removed.
Although tattoo removal can be extremely expensive, there are many people out there who are willing to do those removals for free or at a low cost. More than 300 programs in 42 states are listed in the online directory on our website. Every once in a while, we like to highlight some of the wonderful people who are doing this work. And here are two of them and their stories.
Cassie Farkas-Squires, owner of Ink Eraser Laser Tattoo Removal in Wexford, a Pittsburgh, Penn. suburb, was inspired to do tattoo removal as a result of her own experience.
“I am a heavily tattooed individual. I got tattooed when I was very young and have a lot of tattoo regret myself,” she says. “I started looking into it for me and thought I have all these tattoos that need to go, there must be other people who want to do it as well.”
She has a cosmetology license and worked in hair salons but didn’t, as she says, “enjoy being behind the chair.” So Farkas-Squires began to do property management for salon suites, which she continues to do on the side.
Two years ago, she took a laser removal course at the New Look Laser College, operated by Astanza Laser in Dallas. It took her a year to get the finances together for her equipment, and in October 2021 she opened her business in the Wexford Professional Building with an Astanza Duality laser device.
“It was such a journey for me to get my equipment and such a blessing to get my laser and open my business. I’m really grateful for this opportunity but should use it to give back to people too,” she says.
Erase the Hate does no cost tattoo removals
And when she launched her business, Farkas-Squires also launched Erase the Hate to do no-cost removals of tattoos on the hands, face or neck of those who:
- have been incarcerated
- had tattoos done while incarcerated
- are reformed gang members
- have racist tattoos
- are survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking
So far, she’s done about 28 tattoo removals on Erase the Hate clients.
“I’m surprised I don’t have more people who have inquired about it or go through it. I’m happy to have more, and I have the time to do it. I’ve had people inquire but haven’t followed through,” Farkas-Squires says. She was pleased to inform us that her latest client found her through the directory on our website.
The requirements she has created aren’t too stringent.
“All I ask is that someone will reach out and tell me their story, she says. “I require a letter of recommendation from a parole office, a sponsor or a therapist — someone other than a family member.”
“I’m super grateful to be at the point in my business where I can give back. There were lots of times where I thought it was never going to happen. But I have equipment than can help people change their lives.”
Offering free tattoo removals to local county jail inmates
Another inspiring, and somewhat similar, story of someone who does free tattoo removals is that of Jessie Sebastian of Regretful Heart Laser Tattoo Removal in Richmond, Vir.
“I started getting tattoos at 16, really, really young. But everything changes, and a lot of us were stuck with stuff that we just didn’t want. I’d always heard about tattoo removal. Covid hit, and I was a full-time bartender and had just come off of maternity leave,” Sebastian says. In searching for a change, she reached out to the people at Astanza Laser who, she says, helped her a lot.
“They provided the laser and got me my certification and got me trained to do everything,” she says. “They’re very supportive. They also had somebody help me with marketing strategies.”
She launched her business in 2020 after being laid off the year before from her job as a bartender because of Covid. Richmond, she says, is the third most tattooed place per capita in the U.S. And there’s a tattoo shop on every corner. Getting tattoos removed is another story, since a lot of it is done in high end spas where it’s very expensive. That’s where Sebastian comes in, trying to make the process affordable.
And then one day the inspiration to do free tattoo removals arrived in her inbox.
“I was searching my inbox one day, and the sheriff of Chesterfield County was there asking for help. He runs a program that’s the only program in the country that really recognizes addiction as a disease and not something you should be locked up for,” she says.
Sheriff Karl Leonard had started the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) for inmates at the local Chesterfield County Jail who had heroin addiction problems. He asked Sebastian to remove tattoos on the participants to help them in their efforts to recover and reenter society.
So far, she’s seen 23 inmates. They come in every six weeks. The men on one week and the women the following week. All are escorted by deputy sheriffs. The most number of removals she has done is five in a day.
There are no requirements involved.
“It’s completely optional. “They just have to express interest,” Sebastian says. “We try to help out as many of them as we can. A lot of them are chosen based on merit. They come back while incarcerated, and once released they get to keep coming back for free sessions.”
Sebastian uses the Astanza Ruby laser device, as well as Astanza’s Trinity. Although she has another woman working with her in the shop on tattoo removals, she alone does the pro bono work.
And she finds it very rewarding.
“You get to see people grow mentally and better themselves and get out and better society,” she says, “They’re my favorite clients. It’s a break from their jail. So they get to smile. They get to be goofy. I’ve never been uncomfortable. It’s heartwarming.”
Get a free copy of our book and free technical assistance
Jails to Jobs is happy to offer free technical assistance and a free copy of our book, Tattoo Removal: Establishing a Free or Low-Cost Community-Based Program, A How-to Guide. We extend this offer to those interested in starting a free community-based tattoo removal program for individuals wanting their anti-social, gang-related, intimate partner violence or human trafficking tattoos removed. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or to learn how we can assist you in your efforts. We’re a nonprofit run by volunteers and are here to help!