STOCKTON -- Free tattoo removal was offered in Stockton Friday. The event was offered to former gang members and convicts.
Elmer Flores, a former gang member, flinched as a nurse lasered off a tattoo.
He says there is pain but, with each flicker of red light, the promise of a better life grows.
“It’d be easier for me to get a job, get an apartment; people just look at me like i’m some crazy man out of prison,” said Flores.
Flores is just one of many former convicts who got their visible tattoos removed for free in Stockton.
Like many there Friday evening, Flores joined a gang when he was just a teen.
“I started liking doing what they’re doing, they’re always drinking, and gang banging and wearing in the red,” Flores said.
Each tattoo narrates his troubled past; from his heavy drug use to his time behind bars.
Flores says he’s been in-and-out of jails and prisons since he was 18 years old but it wasn’t until four years ago that he decided to turn his life around.
Tondria Hall works with nonviolent offenders through the AB109 reentry program. She says years ago she saw the man Flores could become.
“OK, you know, I see potential in this guy let me just get in there and help and so we just stayed alongside him every step of the way,” said Hall
It was Flores’s last stint in prison — his rock bottom — that forced him to seek another path.
“I can’t be doing this no more. You know, I’m getting old and tired, you know, I miss my family, I miss my kids,” Flores expressed.
He says since then he’s received help for his mental health and addiction.
And also got married.
“Really nice to see him go from feeling like he can’t do anything to now he’s off probation, he’s married and he’s doing very well for himself,” said Hall.
The old gang tattoos will dissolve over the next six weeks.
Flores says he hopes other people can see now see him beyond the ink.
El Concilio hosts the event every year. Organizers say they receive funding from the San Joaquin probation department.