Ex-Gang Members Look for Fresh Start sans Tattoos For some former gang members, removing old tattoos is a painful but crucial step to leaving their violent pasts behind. In East Los Angeles, a free tattoo removal program aims to help these ex-gang members turn their lives around. Mary Beth Kirchner reports.

Ex-Gang Members Look for Fresh Start sans Tattoos

Free East L.A. Program Helps Those Hoping to Erase the Past

Ex-Gang Members Look for Fresh Start sans Tattoos

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Web Extra: Father Greg Boyle Discusses His Work with East L.A. Gangs over the Years

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Dr. Luis Moreno removes a tattoo from a patient's chest. NPR hide caption

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Tattoo removal is painful. Some patients say the laser procedure feels like hot grease touching their skin. But for some former gang members, it is crucial to turning their lives around.

In East Los Angeles, a project called Homeboy Industries is offering ex-gang members free tattoo removals. For some, old tattoos can be a barrier to advancing in their jobs. Tattoos specifically associated with gangs can still put those who've left the street life behind them in danger.

The program is part of a larger initiative begun by Father Greg Boyle back in 1988 to help at-risk youths find jobs. Unlike other free programs, Homeboys' doesn't ask anything of participants: no community service, no deposit, nothing except a willingness to stay on a wait list that's almost a thousand names long.