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.