DA's Office Removes Gang-Related Tattoos For Free

The San Diego District Attorney’s office also offers tattoo removals for human trafficking victims

The San Diego County District Attorney (DA)'s Office is removing tattoos for people who are looking for a fresh start in life – and in their appearance.

The DA's free laser tattoo removal program started a year ago and helps people remove unwanted tattoos that are gang or human trafficking-related.

“I paroled maybe 3 years ago. So, for the first 2 years, it was a struggle for me because I was no longer that gang member,” said Manuel Chavez, tattoo removal participant.

Manuel spent 22 years in prison and wanted to put the past behind him, but his gang tattoos made that new transition tough.

“I left that life in prison and I was given a fresh opportunity to be a man, a responsible man and I was working and I’m paying my bills. But, I was still stuck with those tattoos and just felt like it was a daily reminder of who I used to be, and if you didn’t know me that’s probably who you thought I was,” said Chavez.

Chavez heard about the DA’s tattoo removal program in December 2018 through the organization, Rise Up Industries.

He immediately signed up to get his four gang tattoos removed. Today, one is completely gone and his other three have been lightened.

“When I meet people, whether it’s at church or family members or new friends when we go out –it’s kind of refreshing and it makes me feel good to know that they don’t know who I am or who I was. They know who I am now that I share that with them but they don’t know who I was, unless I share that with them. It’s a total blessing to me. I’m so glad the District Attorney’s office reached out and presented this golden opportunity to Rise Up Industries,” said Chavez.

For the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the idea for the tattoo removal program was sparked after the DA’s office talked to people released from custody. Many voiced similar concerns about their past tattoos.

“They were struggling with the reminders that the tattoos presented. They would be struggling whether it was physical, someone looking at them and instead of looking in their eyes, looking at their tattoos—while they were applying for a job or taking the bus, walking down the beach, just trying to move ahead,” said Shawnalyse Ochoa, Deputy DA, Assistant Division Chief of Juvenile Branch.

The program not only works to removes tattoos but also serves as a way for the DA’s office to connect with the participants through the series of treatments needed to remove the tattoos.

“We’re making quite an investment in these individuals, that we really believe in them, that they have truly turned the corner and make a complete transition back into being a productive citizen and part of our community. I love that we get to see them every six weeks and reconnect ‘How are you doing?,’ ‘How’s the job hunt going?,’ ‘How’s your progress?,’ ‘How do you feel in your trading school,?’ and we just keep talking in that relationship-building ---and they feel the support,” said Ochoa.

You can find more information on the program, here

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