PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – A local tattoo parlor is taking action to take back their community.

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Gregs Tattoo’s, located in Portsmouth, is offering free camouflages this holiday season for people who no longer want their ink because of its meaning. Anyone with gang, hate group, trafficking, or racist tattoos are invited to come forward to have the mark changed – no judgment.

10 On Your Side sat down with the man leading the effort – a tattoo artist named Joe. He was incarcerated for almost two decades. Even before he was released, he knew he could provide a service that would give back to the community.

“You know some of your tattoo work in prison – you get gang members tattooed,” Joe said. “Tattooing all kinds of things and after a while when I sort of changed my life, I felt bad about a lot of these things and so I started tattooing on these tattoos for free. ”

“They would come to me with a tattoo if they needed to cover it up. I would do the gang tattoos, the hate tattoos, the white supremacist stuff, and I would cover it up or cover it up or change it at no cost. So if people wanted to leave the gang, they could. If they were getting ready to go home and didn’t want to have something crazy on them that would prevent them from finding a job, we would take care of it.

When Joe came out he wanted to continue helping people but had to find work first.

“I went door to door to all the tattoo shops in the area. Couldn’t find work anywhere. Either they wanted to have an art degree or it was a dodgy place, ”explained Joe. “I keep a business card of each person I ask hanging on the wall in my house.”

After surrendering and being turned down by just over thirty salons in Hampton Roads, he landed a job with Greg.

It was after he started working with Greg that Joe realized he could continue to help others correct their past choices so that they didn’t have to spend their future paying for it.

“In all the years that I’ve been in prison, and I’ve been in a supermax prison for 18 years, the ‘worst of the worst’, I can perhaps count on both of my hands the number of really ‘bad’ ones. Most of the people there are young and immature or mentally ill or not socially educated. They have not been given moral codes and foundations. They feel marginalized and are not part of something . Then they come back into society with that stigma and they even more feel like they are not part of something. “

He says the stigma of being a former gang member or reformed criminal can be something that keeps you from finding legal employment.

“People always look at you when they see your tattoos. They say “Well, he’s been in jail” or “He’s a criminal” and then automatically put you on a different level than everyone else. Either you are dangerous and they should be afraid of you. You are dishonest and they shouldn’t trust you. You are violent or you are devious. It’s a stigma.

After discussing it several times with Greg, the company agreed to take on the mission together.

“We’re like one big family,” said Wendi Johnson, who also works at Greg. “It’s family.”

“We understand that people change”, read the company’s Instagram post. “We believe that bad decisions and mistakes shouldn’t be the end of the road if people are willing to make the effort to join our community and our society in a positive way, regardless of their past.”

The salon has already received several calls.

“I got a call from a guy in the Navy trying to get into the Navy and has a middle finger he wants to turn into a peace sign. I received a call from two people with the Confederate flag. One of them got it for hateful reasons and wants to cover it up, the other got it for heritage reasons and wants to change it in a way that makes it non-offensive or non-oppressive to people.

If you would like to donate to the cause, the salon has opened its CashApp ($ TattooAir) for those willing to help.

Since Friday, they cover all the costs out of pocket.

Qualifications for cover-ups:

  • If you have a gang-related tattoo that could be dangerous for you, or prevent you from getting a job or continuing with your life, it might be eligible.
  • If you have a hate group symbol or other offensive racial tattoos, this might qualify.
  • If you have another tattoo that could cause physical or emotional harm to you or the community, it might be eligible.
  • If you have been trafficked and have ID tattoos, this may qualify.

You can plan your consultation by clicking here.

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