August 15, 2013

Tattoos, Young Males, and A Way Back

Getting a tat (tattoo) can be an impulsive act, an artistic expression, a symbol of membership or affiliation, a historical record of the wearer, or simply a gesture that carries deep personal meaning. The tough thing about tats is that they stay when you and your life go on.

The history of the word tattoo is commonly believed to come from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means ‘to mark something’. Regardless of where the word comes from, the practice is believed to be well over 5000 years old, and it is found in many ancient cultures.

One important historical use for tattoos or body scaring has been the marking of a young man’s body to honor his crossing into manhood and his new status in the community. The pain associated with this act was considered one of the ordeals required for a successful passage into manhood. The bearer was then instantly recognized in the community as a man with the status and responsibilities that went with his role.

Sadly, in the same way, tattoos are used today to claim membership in a street or prison gang. Gang tats, as in ancient times, can display a lot of information about the wearer. They can identify the gang, the wearer’s skills, where they are from, the type and number of both criminal activities and jail time. Even the size and where on the body the tat is placed carries meaning.

It’s not my place to judge the choice to tat or not. But I do like the idea that when a young person decides to check out of the gang life or when they get out of jail, not only can they sometimes find a fresh start, but the physical story of their past can often be erased from their skin.

Gang Rescue and Support Project (GRASP) is in Denver, Colorado. It’s an intervention program for young people 14-21 who are at-risk, in some way, of gang involvement. A big part of why GRASP is successful is because it’s run by ex-gang members who have gotten out of the lifestyle and turned their lives around. They know first-hand the dangers and challenges of stepping out of gang life and they can and do help.

Just one of GRASP's services is tat removal. In the video at this link, you can watch as ex-gang members get their tats removed and talk about the impact on them. As you will hear, getting tats removed is an important step, physically and emotionally, on the path out of gang life. What GRASP is doing is powerful work that can reduce violence and criminality in our communities. More importantly, it will save kid’s lives.

For more information, check out the GRASP website or give them a call at: 303-777-3117.

Check out these solid messages from GRASP in the clip below:

If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

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