Removing tattoos for free is not an ordinary service offered by tattoo artists, but All Sacred is no ordinary tattoo shop. The socially conscious shop is currently in the market for a tattoo-removal laser and hopes to offer free tattoo removal for former gang members, giving priority to those whose markings affect their quality of life.
Even with body art becoming socially acceptable in recent years, in Denver, many people with hand, face and neck tattoos are discriminated against. It can affect their careers and even the clubs they can get into. All Sacred needs community help to make its tattoo-removal dream a reality, and will be giving incentives for a crowdfunding effort, offering everything from T-shirts to hats, pins, gift packs of RitualCravt goodies and even a large tattoo from All Sacred founder Aries Rhysing, one of the twenty best tattoo artists in Denver, who is booked six months to a year in advance.
If all goes as planned, All Sacred will be offering this service once a month, as Rhysing says, "not only for aesthetic and cover-up purposes, but for people wishing to leave the past behind and to embrace a future without the stigma that comes with gang or criminally related tattoos."
We spoke with Rhysing to discuss why tattoo artists would get in the business of tattoo removal and the importance of a fresh start for former gang members.
Westword: When did you first come up with the idea to offer tattoo removal?
Aries Rhysing: Well, the idea started when we were collecting on the privilege or the freedom that we have as tattoo people in the workplace, to exercise our artistic vision and tattoo ourselves and still be gainfully employed, as opposed to former gang members who may have once gone about things the wrong way, who get face tattoos and neck tattoos. It's done with a different intention.
Who hasn't made mistakes in their lifetime? I've made mistakes, absolutely. But who has been in the position to want to change? You want to change your past from being a gang member or being a troubled youth, but society wouldn't let you. It shouldn't ruin your life. It's wrong. What's wrong for our community is wrong for all of us. If anyone is struggling, as tattoo artists, we would love to help people in this situation, especially the youth, get the fresh start they deserve.
We've already been qualified for the funding for this technology; we've got the space, the staffing and the support. We are ready to do the service for free monthly for as many people as we possibly can. It costs about $2,000 to fully remove a tattoo of average size on a face, hand or neck. The best price we've ever found is a 10 percent discount or one free service, but it takes usually six to ten visits. So with this program, they can come back and see us once a month until the tattoo has been removed.
If everyone who reads this article gives a dollar to five dollars, if they feel like it's an important issue and give more, we'd be there already. There's some amazing crowdfunding rewards in our campaign. Large-scale tattoos by me ahead of my wait list. We're not expecting people to give money for this project with no rewards; we are trying to work really hard to make this happen.
Do a lot of gang members or former gang members come to you wanting cover-ups?
Unfortunately, there's a whole stigma among that population. If they just cover it up or continue to have that tattoo in a visible place, their gang affiliates might punish them. If you just remove the tattoo and re-establish yourself as a different person, you can get a fresh start.
It's the same for the youth. It's the young people who are in situations of trauma who make these mistakes that are cries for help – face, neck, hand tats – not even considering the circumstances. Then something changes, they move on, they become adults, and they go: "What have I done now? I acted out, and now I can't erase it." A lot of those kids are in serious trauma.
Why remove the tattoo as opposed to covering it up?
Well, it's really gratifying to take someone's tattoo that they're unhappy with and transform it for them to make it something beautiful. Oftentimes, however, we're in a corner. There are only so many things we can effectively do with the tattoo as far as covering it up.
The reason tattoo removal exists will be for cosmetic reasons, too. So we're offering a free monthly program for people who need it as well as either discounted or full-price removal to sustain the business model. Nonprofits often mean well. Sometimes they offer these services, but they have no way to support themselves. The free removal would be supported by the cosmetic removal, which is necessary a lot of the time. If it's a tramp stamp and you're working with a local artist we know who wants the tattoo lightened to cover it more effectively, we can do that too. Lightening could be one visit, two or three, to make a drastic ability to cover up a tattoo. It's really exciting when someone says they want a cover-up; lightening it can be the only way to, depending.
Is it for criminal-activity-related tattoos only, or would it work for just shitty tattoos?
Absolutely. There's going to be a consultation process with everyone who wants removal. Of course we give priority to the extreme cases, gang-related backgrounds or youth who are just stuck; anyone who made a mistake along the lines can, of course, get in line and get the same service. It's having the same consequences on their lives. We're not judging. We're not discriminating. It's come one, come all.
As far as being a part of the solution, All Sacred lives and breathes community engagement. I know you hope to purchase the tattoo-removal laser soon. What else do you have slated for the future?
Our next Tattoos for Good event will be May 21. We do definitely have appointments available for tattoos for that event still. We are really looking to exceed the donations we raised last year. In 2016, All Sacred was just shy of $50,000 raised to our various charities. We look to exceed that this year with the size of our events, the merchandise we sell. We're trying to realize new revenue streams to really help these organizations. As you know, all the arts and youth and animal-protection programs are getting slaughtered in the current political climate. We are trying to combat this by helping out close to home.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.