Good Ink: Tattoo Artist Lends a Therapeutic Ear to War Veterans
After just a few hours on her table, tattoo artist Misty Chastain will more than likely know where it hurts.
The Minnesota entrepreneur and co-founder of the Warrior Ink project has been drawing tattoos for wounded war veterans while she listens to unresolved issues stemming from their combat experiences. She comes to understand their pain by combining her passion for art with a knack for creating good conversation.
More than a dozen former soldiers have left Corpus Opus Tattoo, the shop she recently opened in Austin, Minn., with not only a new look to a body part, but quite possibly a new lease on life as well.
Warrior Ink is the brainchild of Chastain and Iraq war veteran Derrick Brooks, who served four years in the Army’s 101stAirborne and is trained in peer support and trauma counseling through the Wounded Warrior Project. The two met when Brooks was himself exposed to Chastain’s soft touch and emphatic demeanor.
“Tattoos are time consuming,” Chastain, who stumbled upon a career as a tattoo artist five years ago, told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “I’ve never had someone sit in the chair and not say anything. To let someone put something personal on your body – how could you not tell a story?”
Chastain said not long after the veterans are under her care, they have established a relationship with her and entrust her with stories ranging from traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder to sexual trauma. Gabe Crenshaw, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, said tattoos can often help clients heal and find closure.
“Tattoos have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries,” he said. “People find closure, a new beginning, a paradigm shift and want to memorialize that on their bodies.”
Gustavo Mitchell, owner of Monster Steel, a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based e-commerce provider and supplier of a full line of products for the tattoo industry, said many people chose a tattoo to remember an event or eulogize a loved one who is lost.
“Those tattoos with basic, simple designs have the best chance of preserving their original image and shining over time,” he said.
Tattoos seemed to have been the perfect answer for Iraq war veteran Steve Major, who told a story to Chastain of the day a rocket-propelled grenade struck his Humvee, lifting the 5,200-pound vehicle 5 feet while igniting a 45-minute firefight that left two dozen insurgents dead.
For his part, Major suffered a traumatic brain injury, later developed PTSD, and received a Purple Heart. He leaves Corpus Opus Tattoo, two hours later, Chastain’s drawing of a Purple Heart draped over a map of Iraq marked by the coordinates of where his convoy was attacked on his bicep.
“Tell me of your life,” said Chastain, who has opened a Facebook page to promote Warrior Ink. “Tell me what you’re going through and I’ll draw a piece that you’ll be happy with.”
Healed Purple Heart Tattoo. Photo via: Facebook