Leaving Signs of Trouble Behind

For the 16-year-old former gang member at the Beckman Laser Institute waiting to have a tattoo removed Tuesday, it has indeed been a crazy life.

After joining a gang and having three dots symbolizing "My Crazy Life" tattooed next to his right eye when he was 13, he is trying to get a job, raise a 4-month-old son and attend school.

One thing that he--and his probation officer--think will help is having the three dots removed.

So the 16-year-old, whose name was not released because he is a minor, found himself on the edge of the UC Irvine campus Tuesday as part of a free program sponsored by the laser institute, the Orange County Probation Department and its private, nonprofit fund-raising arm--the Probation Community Action Assn.

Working with $11,500 in donations and federal grant money, the program has enrolled more than 25 people who want to turn their lives around but may be impeded by tattoos on their arms, hands, face and neck.

The Probation Department pays $50 for the use of the laser, but the procedure is done for free because medical school residents training in dermatology remove the tattoos while gaining work experience.

It is an arrangement that benefits everyone.

"Because it's free, that's a lot easier on me," said another youth who had just come in for a second session to have tattoos on his hand and back removed.

Because it takes an average of six sessions stretched out over many months to remove a tattoo, the cost can easily exceed $1,000. Bit by bit, the series of five-minute laser sessions burn off the skin and tattoo ink.

Participants say that having a tattoo removed hurts more than having it painted on. But, they say, it is well worth the pain.

"I have better things to think about than my gang--my family [and] my son," said the 16-year-old at Beckman on Tuesday.

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