The mistake was written all over his right forearm.
Randy Stiles knew that he had to right the wrong -- images of a Confederate flag and noose with the words "Southern Pride" -- he had tattooed when he was still "young and dumb" if he no longer wanted to be the target of public ridicule and continue along a dead-end career path.
Covering up a tattoo from years ago can take hours. Stiles had the time, but he didn't really have the $500 that removing a tattoo can cost. That was until he entered Southside Tattoo in Brooklyn Park, Md., where Dave Cutlip and his wife had remorseful customers in mind when they came up with the idea to remove tattooed expressions of hate at no cost.
The concept has blossomed into no-cost cover-ups on Tuesdays and the Random Acts of Tattoo Project, a crowd-funding effort which Cutlip and his wife formed to distribute funds to artists nationwide who offer free tattoo cover-upsas wells as to those in need of laser removal training.
"Monster Steel supports these efforts and salutes the artists and clients who are making these changes," Chris Madeira stated. The COO of Monster Steel, a major supplier to tattoo studios and artists, recommends, to his clientele, implementing programs like this as a way for a tattoo studio and/or artist to give back to their community, get positive attention, and help customers fix old mistakes.
Consider, a Virginia program adopted in 2007 included the removal of gang-themed tattoos from former members; in 2010, a judge in Florida ordered a neo-Nazi’s tattoos covered with makeup during his trial; and the Southern Poverty Law Center funded the removal of a skinhead’s tattoos the following year. Of note recently, the State of Colorado contracted with TattooEmergency911 to fund, in part, gang-related tattoo removal services for at-risk youth transitioning to or on parole from the Division of Youth Corrections.
“They call 'em job stoppers," said Jesus Bujanda, who operates TattooEmergency911 with his wife in Greeley, Colo. "As soon as employers see something on your hand, on your neck, on your face, they just get leery right away. And they have so many applications to choose from that that’s an easy way to get looked over.”
Cutlip said that anyone can make a mistake, either in prison or on the street. The trick is to keep those who were forced or coerced into hate groups and gangs from becoming victims themselves once they have come to regret their past associations.
“Sometimes people make bad choices, and sometimes people change," said Cutlip. “If I can help that person, that’s my ultimate goal.”
Matthew Zapata, who had a tattoo on his back that represented his past connections to a number of gangs, walked into Twisted Tattoo looking for a second chance. The San Antonio tattoo shop offers free cover-ups to clients with gang-related or racist tattoos. Denise Delgado, the shop's co-owner, said the response has been overwhelming.
Stefani Traynham took up the offer. She was never in a gang, but the rebel flag tattooed on her leg in high school continued to attract attention that she no longer wanted.
"I get a lot of ugly stares," said Traynham, who was tired of debating the history behind the flag. "I get a lot of whispers behind my back. A lot of people automatically associate it with the KKK or slavery or the hate of black people."
She no longer has regrets. Twisted Tattoo transformed her Confederate flag into Tinker Bell.
Not every tattoo can be covered up in a puff of magic, but Cutlip, who has been in the business for 25 years, said each is worth the effort.
"We believe there is enough hate in this world," he said. "We want to make a difference."