Shown on Cincinnati.com on Friday, March 13, 2015
Here is the original link: http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2015/03/13/erasing-life-street-one-tattoo-time/70217914/
One Cincinnati doctor is helping give convicted felons a second chance at a decent life.
Leroy Turner is hoping to improve his image by having the tattoos he received in prison removed from his hands, neck and face. The Enquirer/Cameron Knight
Leroy Turner traces his finger over the swirling black ink etched into his skin, as if reading lines from a book.
The tattoos are everywhere, from his face to his fingertips, and the story they tell is his own. “Natural Born Hustler” covers his right hand. “In cash we trust” curls below his ear. Loops and symbols and odes to street life fill the spaces in between.
All of them have meaning to Turner, who has spent a good share of his 31 years selling drugs and causing trouble in Cincinnati.
He says that life is over now. His skin says otherwise.
So now Turner is here, in the office of a Hyde Park cosmetic surgeon, volunteering for a new project that’s helping former inmates remove tattoos they can’t conceal.
The hope is to erase the visible evidence of a past they want to escape but instead share with everyone they meet.
No one knows how this will work out, since Turner is the first to do it. But the leaders of Hamilton County’s Re-entry Office are optimistic that the program, which relies on volunteer doctors instead of tax dollars, will tear down one of the biggest barriers confronting men and women like Turner.
It’s hard enough, they say, to become a productive member of society with a rap sheet and a probation officer. It’s harder still when you meet a potential landlord or employer with a face covered in crude tattoos you got in prison.
“You get people with felony backgrounds and then you add this on top of it,” says DeAnna Hoskins, director of the re-entry office. “People make their judgment based on what they see.”
Even as tattoos have become more accepted and more common, the stigma associated with tattoos on the face and neck, especially those depicting criminal and gang activity, remains strong.
A recent Career Builder survey found a visible tattoo would prevent 31 percent of employers from hiring someone. And a West Virginia University study last year found that ex-cons with visible tattoos returned to prison much more quickly than those without them.
Hoskins, whose office helps former prisoners find work and housing, said that’s because visible tattoos keep former inmates from getting good jobs and integrating into society.
Dozens of people in the re-entry program have visible tattoos, she said, and employers have made it clear they don’t like the ink.
Turner knows that as well as anyone. He’s done some temporary work since his last stint in prison in 2012, but a full-time job has eluded him.
His background is a problem, but he thinks maybe, in time, he could get past that. His painted skin is another matter. How do you convince a potential employer you’ve changed when your face is still that of a prisoner?
“They look at you and they turn their nose up at you,” Turner says. “People see that and think you’re a gangster, a hoodlum.”
When he applied for a job at a fast-food burger place last year, the interviewer took one look at him and cut to the chase: “How are you going to cover your tattoos?”
Turner didn’t have an answer then. If all goes well, he soon will.
Leroy Turner is having all the tattoos on his hands, face and neck removed to help his chances at finding employment. Turner explained that overcoming a background check without tattoos is hard enough. (Photo: The Enquirer/Cameron Knight)