Program helps people transform themselves
Some mistakes can be erased with Confession and Reconciliation. Others require a laser. That’s the thinking behind a popular program sponsored by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Monterey, Calif., in which retired and off-duty physicians volunteer their time to remove tattoos from people who feel their ink is holding them back from putting past mistakes behind them.
Laser tattoo removal usually costs hundreds of dollars a session, but Catholic Charities offers laser treatments for $20 or less to people who go the extra mile to prove that transforming their physical appearance is just the first step in transforming their lives.
Anyone wanting to access the program has to submit a letter in writing explaining why they want their ink removed, sit for an in-person interview, and perform 20 hours of community service as evidence of their desire to change their lives in a positive way. Most cite difficulty in getting legitimate work or a yearning to be a better example to their children as key reasons why they want to get rid of their tattoos. Others say the memories the tattoos bring up are too painful to allow them to move on.
“We’re not really talking about decorative tattoos,” said program director Maria Runciman, in a press release explaining the program. “We see former prostitutes who were branded by their pimps with tattoos, people who were in abusive relationships and want the names of their abusers removed. Some people are embarrassed about their gang tattoos and don’t want their kids to see them. Some want to go into the military or get a job and need that swastika or swear word removed.”
The program was started in 1993 by a single doctor at Dominican Hospital with help from the local Knights of Malta. Today, it serves about 300 people every year, thanks to a staff of volunteer doctors and contributions from the Catholic community on California’s Central Coast – especially Catholic Charities, which stepped in to take over operations and save the program two years ago when Dominican Hospital closed down the rehabilitation center where the program had previously been housed.