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.

 

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.

 

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 nbergman@quantausa.com. 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.