Erase the Hate
An ill-placed tattoo can have lifelong ramifications—especially if it relays a message of prejudice, hatred, or gang affiliation. Tattoo removal is possible, but very expensive, so options are limited for many people who have taken a new path in life but continue to display an offensive message on their skin.
In 2019, Oklahoma Plastic Surgeons offered a summer-only trial program to remove highly-visible, hate-related tattoos, at no cost, to a select number of applicants. They invited the public to submit their tattoo photos, along with a description of why the tattoo’s removal would improve their life. Dr. Clinton Webster and his laser technician, Rebel Hudson, were shocked to receive 200 applications!
“Everyone makes mistakes, but a tattoo can be a permanent symbol of someone’s past decisions,” said Hudson. “It could be a swastika or a foul word or a prison tattoo. We wanted to provide this service for people in financial need, who had changed the direction of their lives.”
Mistakes On Display
According to Hudson, the most troubling location for hate-related tattoos is the face, neck, or hands–places that can’t be hidden. In one situation, Hudson removed an old boyfriend’s name from a woman’s neck, but too late to avoid his name being prominently displayed in photos of her wedding to someone else. Many of their applicants have struggled to get jobs because even though employers are more lenient toward tattoos than in the past, offensive messages can impede business.
“Last year, we had a woman with face and neck tattoos apply,” Hudson said. “Although she had a job in a call center, she discovered that she was unable to set up playdates for her toddler. She said, ‘No one wanted to play with him because of what they saw on me.’ After a year of treatment, she got a better job, moved out of her parents’ house, and was no longer trying to live a life of covering herself up. Her happiness was evident, and it made me happy to help her.”
The Ink of the Matter
Hudson, who has worked as a laser technician for 27 years, is surprised by how much she loves working with Erase the Hate clients. She’s found them to be gracious and thankful. It takes months of 15-to-45 minutes office visits to completely break up the ink, so she gets to know each person pretty well. “They all tell me their story about how they made a dumb mistake, and they’re tired of being judged for it.”
The laser process is painful and causes swelling, so not everyone can tolerate it, but those who do are ecstatic with the results. The laser removes tattoos by obliterating the ink so that the body excretes it. Once the ink breaks up, the skin tissue underneath is normal, not scarred. Black ink is the easiest to remove, but blues and greens take longer, and white ink does not come off.
“One man wanted to get into the Army, and a year later, I got a thank you message that said, ‘I got in!’ It’s heartwarming to hear those stories, and I’m so glad Dr. Webster is doing this service for the community,” Hudson said. “Erase the Hate has become my favorite part of the job!”
To apply for 2022, submit a photo and story to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 10th.