by Jenna Fritz, AmeriCorps
The Walla Walla Ink-Out program is a tattoo removal project in collaboration with Walla Walla General Hospital, The Walla Walla Public School District, The Health Center, and other community partners. The Ink-Out Project is designed for youth and adults who wish to remove visible tattoos that reflect gang, drug, or anti-social behavior. These tattoos can have adverse effects on an individual’s employment opportunities, self-esteem, and social mobility. The project seeks to coordinate tattoo removal with mentoring, community service, and other social support services. Rather than hefty prices for most tattoo removal processes, Ink-Out offers free tattoo removal for youth under 21 and a nominal charge for adults over 21 or those outside of the Walla Walla community. All participants are required to complete 25 hours of community service and have an individual serving as their mentor or advocate through the project. Oftentimes committee members step up as mentors or to facilitate connections for community service.
The individuals in the program range in age from fifteen to forty-five. They are at different places in their lives, but all of them have hope and a desire to change and improve their futures. It’s powerful to hear them reflect on their past experiences and where they are now. The stories are inspiring and encourage hope in our communities.
Tattoo removal for these individuals is life-changing. Many of these individuals have faced enormous personal challenges in their lives and families. Drugs and gang involvement were an escape for most of these people. For most of them, the tattoos are sources of pain, shame, and sadness. Removal of the tattoos is the first step towards getting out of a harmful lifestyle, working towards future goals and dreams, and improving their view of themselves and the community around them. The project seeks to reestablish the connection of these individuals to their community through service hours and coordination with social support networks.
The hardest part is getting the individuals in the door. Once they are committed to the tattoo removal, they have a lot of support through the process. A free or reduced fee for the removal service allows for individuals who would not be able to afford the standard rates. The tattoo removal process takes months and can be painful, which can be a barrier to complete the removal process. We seek to reduce any obstacles by screening applicants, following up with their mentor or advocate, and providing the necessary support through social services.
Every tattoo removal is a success. The benefit to these individuals is unquestionable. The most powerful success is seeing how this project can increase their self-esteem and how they view their future. Once the individuals feel that their tattoos won’t hold them back, they feel free to pursue education, jobs, and opportunities that seemed improbable before. Since the process began in fall 2013 we have approved more than 20 individuals and many have already started the treatment process!
Here is a link to an article featured in the UB about the project: