Basin Program Helps Ex-Felons Get Tattoos Removed

By Jen Kastner
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND- The Permian Basin Tattoo Removal Program is helping ex-felons remove their tattoos so they have a better chance of gaining employment after they get out of prison.

Program Coordinator Mel Bullock helps with the removals. He says convicts will use just about any substance for makeshift tattoo ink.

"Melted eyelash liner, chipped paint and even asphalt," he explained.

Tattooing while behind bars is extremely common, but when the men and women get released, the markings can haunt them.

John Maddox served seven years in prison.

"Other people view me negatively with my tattoos, so I just want to get rid of them," Maddox said.

Finding a job while sporting visible tattoos can be difficult.

"[Employers] just think you're trash. They don't want to hire you," says Conan Ordiway, who served five years in prison.

This is the only program of its kind in the nation. Texas Tech's Medical School has partnered up with the federal court in Midland to help these ex-felons get rid of tattoos on the face, neck and hands.

Bullock says, "If they do not get employment, the chances of them going back to the penitentiary are good."

Program organizers say many of their patients are former gang members.

"Aryan Brotherhood. Mexican Mafia. MS-13. Neo-Nazi's. You name it," Bullock said.

Ordiway is trying to start his own plumbing business. For that, he's getting cleaned up.

"I've done my time. I've screwed up. I'm trying to change my life and it's hard to get back into public," Ordiway said.

Each session will only cost a patient $50. Maddox went to a private clinic first, but he could not afford what they quoted him.

"$3,800 is what they wanted," he says.

The minimal fee along with community donations keeps this operation running. There are no tax dollars at work.

The program is also open to military recruits and people who have tattoos they deeply regret.