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S E C T I O N 2 Cover Story Jericho Project member Ernie bids a slow and painful goodbye to tattooed numbers that represent letters that spell the name of an ex-girlfriend. The Jericho Project is an alternative-sentencing program for recovering addicts and criminal offenders. Fresh Start T Ex-prisoners, others turn to county’s tattoo-removal service Story by Dave Boyce | Photos by Michelle Le he “ink” is a combination of water, toothpaste and colored plastic — melted checkers, for example. The “needle” is a sharpened staple. In the hands of a self-taught artist, the sort you’re likely to find in prison, these raw materials become the stuff of prison tattoos, and gang identity. But while visible affiliation with a gang can contribute to a safe existence when you’re inside, it can be a big problem when you’re on the outside and working on a new self image. Tattoos invite unwelcome attention from gangs on the outside and uncertainty in the minds of potential employers, ex-prisoners say. Residents of San Mateo County with unwanted tattoos used to be able to turn to the county for help in having them erased, but the service went dark about two years ago after the fizzling of the laser-driven tattoo-removal equipment. In February 2014, the program restarted with a new machine. Run jointly by the police department in Redwood City, the county Sheriffís Office and the county probation department, a clinic now convenes on a Saturday morning every two months or so at the Bay Road home of the Police Athletic League in Redwood City. On a recent Saturday, two groups of clients — about eight women and a dozen men — gath- ered in the athletic league’s recreation room. The women were there on their own; the men were affiliated with the Jericho Project in Brisbane, an alternative-sentencing program for recovering addicts and criminal offenders who make commitments to turn their lives around. In Almanac’s interviews, most of the clients identified themselves by their first names, and a few chose anonymity. All the men were serving sentences at the Jericho Project in lieu of serving in prison for felony offenses. Also present for the clinic were Zuzanna Likar, a nurse practitioner and laser operator; Manuel Velarde of the juvenile-services section of the Redwood City Police Department, and two San Mateo County probation officers: John Domeniconi in the rec room bantering with the men, and Carrie Cross helping Ms. Likar in the treatment room. The $100,000 laser, funded through donations, works by detecting a tattoo’s colors and fracturing the ink into tiny particles that are all but invisible. This will happen naturally; the laser accelerates the process. Black and blue are the easiest colors to treat; white is untreatable, Ms. Likar says. A skilled operator can erase a tattoo in four Continued on next page Former gang member Jose, an anti-gang advocate, got his first tattoo at age 10. Redwood City Police Juvenile Specialist Manuel Velarde helps him with bandages after a laser treatment. Eric Martin passes the time waiting for treatment of his tattoos by relaxing in a gym at the Police Athletic League building in Redwood City. On the cover: A man who says his days of running with gangs are behind him sits for one of many sessions under a laser to remove a tattoo. The county recently restarted a free tattoo-removal clinic in Redwood City. May 21, 2014 NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN25

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