Current Removal Programs

Those who seek to remove their scaring reminders of the past have the option of residing in new programs that offer removal services. These programs were generated in the early 1990’s and exist within cities where crime rates and gang membership are prominent. The Agape Light Tattoo Removal Program in Los Angeles, California which is run by Dr. Steven Popkow, a Dermatologist, and a local church, offers former gang members with an unlimited amount of tattoo removals in exchange for community service (Burke 2). The free tattoo remove although convenient for low income community members, offers “a catch”. The free service is only offered and performed on tattoos that are either on the hands, face or neck. Free removal may only be offered in these locations because they are prominent locations for tattoos in addition to the fact that these areas are very visible to a potential employer. The doctor hopes that someday, similar programs will take formation across other cities in the United States in order to further this pioneering and movement toward improving many people’s lives.

For a member to become eligible for this service, they must meet specific prerequisites. These may include but are not limited to: residency in the city or county that offers the program, complete removal from the gang and that the applicant must undergo counseling. Within the program, participants must have the willingness to capitalize on the opportunity they are awarded to erase their physical reminders of the past. This is unfortunately easier said than done due to the many reminders of belonging that the tattoos offer former gang members. They no longer have something to fall back on if they remove their tattoos and move on with their lives. Members venture off into the world with only a gang cultured past underneath them, which is not the most attractive of backgrounds requested of society. While the process of removal is both a painful and lengthy procedure with multiple treatments necessary to remove the most minimal of tattoos, these minor drawbacks are far outweighed by the prospect of beginning a new life free of illegal activity.


Some removal programs like the one offered through Homeboy Industries, Inc., which started as a small bakery in East Los Angeles, offers not only these programs to gang members but also offers them job opportunities through felony-friendly employers. Being a gang member automatically makes it difficult to land a decent paying job in order to support a family, but having this resource at many people’s disposal offers even more than the removal programs themselves can offer. The Homeboy motto remains “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” and their movement evolved into one of the largest gang prevention programs in the nation (Kim 1). Gang activity is spreading however because gang members are fleeing Los Angles and many other inner city locations to places like El Salvador and the rest of Central America which helps to fuel gang problems in other locations (Ballve 1). But the Passionist Social Services center in El Salvador offers tattoo removal and activities that help gang members learn more about their own Salvadorian cultural backgrounds. This helps gang members to foster a greater appreciation for where they live and what they stand for. In addition to these programs, the center also extends opportunities to former gang members such as recreational engagement and community youth education (DeCesare 5).

While the significance of bearing the tattoo of a gang may offer belonging, the boundless opportunities that tattoo removal programs offer gang members provides a new outlook and chance for a productive and more meaningful existence. The pain and prospect of violence that comes from the belonging to a gang is much greater than that of the removal of lifelong scaring memories that tattoos hold. Members of various communities can only wait for and hope that gang members realize the importance of living free from violence and understand that they have various resources to help mitigate the painful past.

-Alex D.

Works Cited:

- Burke, Todd, Ph.D. “Erasing the Past: Tattoo-Removal Programs for Former Gang Members.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Criminal Justice Periodicals. August (2008):n. pag. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

- Kim, Jen. “Give Gangs This Day Their Daily Bread.” Psychology Today. January (2010):n. pag. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

- Ballve, Teo. “YA: Youth Activism.” NACLA Report on the Americas. (Rep Am 38 no.1) August (2004). 30 Nov. 2010.

- DeCesare, Donna. “Salvadoran Gangs: Brutal Legacies and a Desperate Hope.” NACLA Report on the Americas. (Rep Am 42 no.6) 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.

- Laser Tattoo Removal. July 17, 2009. JEPG File.