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.

Global Homeboy Network Gathering scheduled for August

Global Homeboy Network

The Global Homeboy Network Gathering in L.A. in August will include optional tours of Homeboy Industries facilities.

The third annual Global Homeboy Network Gathering will take place August 7-9, 2016, at The California Endowment in Los Angeles.

The event attracts about 200 people each year from throughout the U.S. and around the world who have been inspired by Homeboy Industries in their own work and organizations.

The Network, which now includes more than 85 organizations, was created with the first conference in 2014 to help other organizations spread the Homeboy model to locations beyond Los Angeles.

This year’s gathering will begin with a welcome reception at the Homegirl Café late Sunday afternoon. The next two days will include workshops on such topics as social entrepreneurial programs and development, fundraising and development, peer navigation and membership, and identity and re-identification.

Hotel rooms have been blocked at the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel and Doubletree by Hilton on South Los Angeles Street and listed under “Homeboy Industries.”

Those interested in participating in the gathering can register on the Homeboy Industries website.

The cost to attend is:

  • $150 for those who register before June 24
  • $200 for those who register between June 25 and July 22
  • $225 late registration between July 23 and August 1

Founded in 1988 by Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who still runs the organization, Homeboy Industries is considered one of the world’s largest and most successful reentry and gang intervention programs. It operates a variety of social enterprises including a bakery, café, silkscreen and embroidery business, and a diner at Los Angeles City Hall.