DALLAS — The stigma surrounding tattoos is going away, according to a 2018 study from Harvard Business Review. But those coming out of prison feel it’s a different story for them. That’s why a Dallas company has made it their mission to help remove gang-related or highly-visible tattoos monthly at no cost, so ex-convicts can secure better job opportunities and reduce recidivism.
Astanza Laser set up shop in the Cedars area of Dallas five years ago. While the company is in the business of selling the high-powered lasers used in the laser tattoo removal treatments, president David Murrell says their focus is on changing lives.
"We change the lives of patients by allowing them to change their appearance. For some, it's increasing self-esteem based on how they look. For others, we are removing traumatic signs of the past, including tattoos from human trafficking and gang involvement. And for others, it's erasing the visible reminders of past mistakes,” Murrell said.
For some, those past mistakes led to a prison sentence. For Francisco Flores, visiting Astanza Laser to start the process of laser tattoo removal is the beginning of his new and better life.
"I've been out for a month. I was in it for four years. And well, I ain’t trying to go back,” Flores said. "I’m an ex-felon, so what better way? Get rid of some ugly tattoos, jailhouse tattoos, live a better life.”
Flores took advantage of Astanza Laser’s “Community Laser Tattoo Removal” day. The company works with Dallas-area nonprofits and organizations to offer free removal sessions for those who may not be able to afford it, or for those coming out of prison.
Flores decided to start getting tattoos on his hand and wrist removed. They were ones he got done during his time in prison.
"A skull head removed from my hand, a girl's name I had a long time ago when I was a kid and a letter that nobody knew what it was but me,” Flores said. "Being in prison, you get bored. And I guess the best remedy to get rid of all that is pain, sometimes. That helps out a lot. Sometimes the art looks good on you. I mean, art is always beautiful. But man, where I got them at, it wasn't a wise choice. I got other tattoos and I could hide those. But these, they're visible and not everybody likes tattoos."
By offering these tattoo removal sessions for people like Flores, Astanza Laser hopes to lessen the boundaries the formerly incarcerated face when transitioning back into society. Many correctional facilities also use laser tattoo removal to reduce recidivism and help inmates preparing for re-entry who wish to break free from their past.
“People who are coming out of prison have the cards stacked against them, right? You have to check the box when you try to get back into the workforce after. It’s basically a dead end there,” Astanza Laser’s senior biomedical engineer, Joshua Walsh, said. "The opportunity to come in and not be looked at as somebody who's been in the prison system, but to be looked at as a normal person again — which is terrible enough as it is — really helps break down a lot of those boundaries, helps you get back into the workforce and helps recidivism.”
Walsh said Astanza also offers the actual lasers and laser removal training to nonprofits so more people can get in the game of helping those who are wanting to make a life change.
“The last thing that we want to have is somebody who's been out trying to make their life better, can't do it due to the boundaries, and then resorts back to the judicial system or a crime,” Walsh said. "Obviously, we run a business here. We're here to make money, but if there's a way you can help somebody why wouldn't you be able to do that, right? So, we offer like our lasers at a significant discount for our nonprofits, we give them pretty much everything that we have to offer at like what cost it would be or less for us, and just kind of go over the top.”
Laser tattoo removal is no cake walk, especially for first-timers like Flores. But he knows with every zap from the laser, he’s one step closer to securing a better paying job, so he can take care of his family. Flores worked with the nonprofit, “Cornbread Hustle” to lock down a temporary job, but he says getting his ink taken off will be the ticket to an even better one.
“I've always done remodeling, so I want to go back into that,” Flores said. "And a lot of homeowners, everything's visible, so they look at you and they're like, ‘I don't want him in my house.’ So, I mean, it's a good thing I took them off so that way when they see me, they're like ‘Alright, he looks pretty clean and presentable.’ So that way, they let me in the house and I do the work for him.”
Flores’ has a final piece of advice for anyone considering tattoos.
“If you do want to get them, get them somewhere where you can probably hide them. And if you get one, get one you won't regret, unlike mine,” Flores said.
If you’re interested in joining the Astanza family and starting a laser tattoo removal nonprofit business today, give them a call at 800-364-9010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Astanza also has a training division called, “New Look Laser College” which- monthly offers a tattoo removal training course where students can earn certifications that are key to becoming a laser tattoo removal practitioner. If you’d like to find out when the next “Community Laser Tattoo Removal” day is, email email@example.com to sign up.