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Volunteers in Northern KY Remove Tattoos for Returning Citizens

A patient gets his hand tattoo removed. (Adobe Stock)
A patient gets his hand tattoo removed. (Adobe Stock)
April 10, 2019

COVINGTON, Ky. - A small nonprofit in Northern Kentucky is removing face, neck and hand tattoos for people starting a new life after serving time in prison.

It all started several years ago when Jo Martin retired from a long corporate career and began tutoring GED subjects to people incarcerated at the Kenton County Detention Center in Covington. Martin realized that even with a GED, the prison and gang-related tattoos she kept seeing would prevent many individuals from finding employment. She decided to start a nonprofit, Tattoo Removal Ink, that specializes in tattoo removal for men and women who are coming out of incarceration, at no charge.

"About three years into it, I kept seeing all of these terribly offensive tattoos on these young men and women," she said, "and I thought, 'How are they going to get a job?' They can get their GED - that's what I tutored was GED subjects - but they had tattoos on their face and necks and hands, pretty unemployable stuff."

According to the latest statistics from the Prison Policy Initiative, more than 40,000 Kentuckians currently are behind bars, and most will struggle to find work after being released.

Tattoo removal is expensive, and for the formerly incarcerated, who may have covered their faces and other visible parts of the body, the process can cost thousands of dollars. Martin said most of the tattoos her organization removes are white-supremacist related.

"We have done the grand wizard of Ku Klux Klan," she said. "We took his tattoos off. He served 16 1/2 years in prison, and when he came out, he didn't want anything to do with the Klan anymore."

For her clients, Martin said, removing face, neck and hand tattoos is a symbolic process associated with erasing past choices and lifestyles.

"They want to be able to walk into, like, say, Krogers and shop without people looking at them and putting their children behind them, because they're afraid of that person that has a tattoo on their face or hand," she said.

Martin estimated that her organization has removed tattoos on hundreds of formerly incarcerated Kentuckians, as well as victims of human trafficking.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY