INK OUT Program Offers Tattoo Removal To Better Lives - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

INK OUT Program Offers Tattoo Removal To Better Lives and the Community

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WALLA WALLA, Wash. - Few things in life last forever but tattoos do. For gangs, they are a status symbol that show off loud and clear who you are affiliated with. But what happens when you leave that lifestyle? Well, a new program in Walla Walla is helping people move forward - one tattoo removal at a time.

"They want to change. That's what the Ink Out project is all about," said one of the program's coordinators, Sergio Hernandez.

"Fred" is one of the first to take part in INK OUT. NBC Right Now was there for his third treatment to remove gang symbols from his hand.

"I'm ashamed of that. It's something in my past, it's a chapter that I've closed. I just don't want other people to see that, that perhaps know me for who I am now," said Fred.

Because of the nature of his tattoos, "Fred" wished to remain anonymous. He received his first tattoo when he was just a seventh grader. He said he was trying to fit in and grow up too fast.

"The gang was their family. When you erase that you are in some way, separating them from this family association and that can be sort of painful for some of them," said INK OUT physician, Dr. Robert Betz.

"In reality, you're just scarring your body and you're doing it not knowing the consequences they're going to have the impact they're going to have later on in life," said Fred.

INK OUT focuses on visible tattoos which can hinder people's abilities to do things like find a job.

"We know that as they make these significant lifestyle changes, they'll be able to then contribute and give back to the community," said Hernandez.

"I already feel better, just showing it to people and saying, look, I'm taking this step and you can too," said Fred.

INK OUT participants are required to apply, go through an interview process and complete some community service hours before their first treatment. People 21 and younger will get the work for free - if approved - and older folks will pay a discounted price.