Chris loves tattoos as is evident by the many colorful tattoos he has on both his arms and legs, but he admits that there are some tattoos that just shouldn't exist and it is the ministry of Ink 180 to remove or cover up those tattoos.
The 2nd time I met Chris was this past weekend to view the new Ink 180 Documentary.
The first part of the documentary focuses on Chris's work removing or covering up tattoos for former gang members. These tattoos are gernerally in high visibility places like a forearm, neck or face. While in the gang these tattoos are seen as a badge of honor. But once they leave that gang it is visible anchor still linking them to that gang. Often these tattoos will make them a target of law enforcement or a rival gang. It also makes it hard for them to find employment even though they are no longer part of that gang.
The second part of the documentary focuses on the work with victims of human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking have been subject to both physical and emotional abuse. Tattoos forced on them by their pimp are a painful reminder of their old life. It's a delicate ministry. One that Chris describes like walking on broken glass, but that glass is also on fire. Most victims are referred to him from a federal agency (like the FBI or Homeland Security) and he requests that someone from that agency be present during the removal or cover up. Victims of human trafficking have severe trust issues because of what they've gone through. The agent that has been working with them will have built a certain level of trust with the victim and this will hopefully make them feel a little more comfortable as well as providing the necessary protection for the victim. His shop goes into complete lockdown during the session.
When I first met Chis he had done 508 coverups and removals in just his first year. He has now done 2000 since opening all at no cost to the individual. He now has 2 mobile units affectionately called Grace 1 and Grace 2. The mobile units allow him to visit the County jail to remove tattoos for those who can not come to the shop.
But perhaps the most impressionable part to me was the process of closure Chris provides once the tattoo has been removed or covered up. The person is given an 8 1/2 x 11 picture of their former tattoo which they put through the shredder. This was such a powerful image of saying goodbye to their old life. From there they are taken to a room that has a mural of a tree on one wall called the Freedom Tree. Here, the person will cover their hand in paint and place a colorful handprint on the tree to symbolize new life.
Chris says he has to go to counseling because the stories he hears that are so horrific, but he continues on because he says, "God told me to take His word to the darkest of places." And he gets a front row seat to watch God fix people every day.