Erasing Gang Connections

May 22, 2009 7:53:31 PM PDT
The waiting list is growing for a free service that helps people erase their gang connections.A grant is funding a state-of-the-art tattoo removal machine to help gang members get jobs when they're serious about leaving the lifestyle.

151 people are already on the list to get tattoos removed. But there is a catch, you have to be willing to give back to the community while undergoing the treatment.

Covering up his past is not easy for "Mikey" ... Especially when it gets hot. The Bulldog Gang Member has tattoos basically from head to toe.

"It became addicting and just that was just me I just liked getting them."

20 years after he joined a gang and served several years in prison, Mikey is ready for a change. A third strike could mean a life sentence. Leaving the lifestyle is challenging because of the visible reminders, especially for potential employers.

Mikey said, "When they see me, I'm all tatted up, and they're like ok, we can't have him around people. So there it goes right there, a lot of discrimination and that's why I want to change. I want to be treated equal."

A medical professional will be contracted to perform the procedures. The machine was paid for by a grant received by the police department.

Tattoo removal will be offered free of charge as long as participants donate 20 hours of community service per month for as long as their treatment lasts, usually several months.

Mikey has been approved to have 132 square inches of ink removed. If he had to pay for it, it would cost him close to 20 thousand dollars. That's why many people cannot erase them.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, "It is very expensive. It doesn't take a lot of effort, energy or cost to put a tattoo on, but it takes an incredible amount of cost, energy and effort to get it removed."

Not only that, it's very painful. Mikey is willing to endure many hours of treatment for the end result.

"To me, you gotta keep doing it. You're the man who put it there; you got to be a man to take them off," said Mikey.

Those gang members wanting the removal service must be referred by the mayor's gang prevention initiative program. Only tattoos in plain sight, like on the face, neck and arms will be taken off.

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