Offbeat: Ohio tattoo artists give former Guatemala gang members new ink and a new lease on life - PressFrom - US

OffbeatOhio tattoo artists give former Guatemala gang members new ink and a new lease on life

19:20  01 november  2018
19:20  01 november  2018 Source:

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East Side Ink quickly developed a reputation as New York City’s premier parlor for custom tattoos . On any given day, you might find your favorite actor or musician getting tattooed right next to neighborhood regulars. East Side Ink has some of the best tattoo artists in the biz.

Ohio tattoo artists give former Guatemala gang members new ink and a new lease on life© White Whale Tattoo Luiz shows off his cover up tattoo of a cupcake, which he sells on public buses after leaving the gang lifestyle. Luiz was a founding member of MS-13, one of Guatemala's most infamous gangs.

Luiz grew older, left the gang and had children. He started selling cupcakes on public buses to provide for his family. But a piece of his past stayed engrained on his arm: A gang tattoo.

That's where Jeremiah Griswold of White Whale Tattoo in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati came in. During a mission trip where he and fellow artists do coverup tattoos pro bono (think Tattooists Without Borders) the piece Luiz so wanted to forget was reimagined in new ink.

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Our team of skilled artists creates bespoke tattoos for our clients in a broad range of styles, specializing in I absolutely love my tattoo and the attention you gave to detail. The apprenticeship in Guatemala started when I worked to create cover-up tattoos for former gang members who were

Luiz now has a bright, colorful cupcake tattooed on his arm. When he first saw it, he wept.

"He's just a big teddy bear," said Becki Griswold, who co-owns White Whale with her husband.

For gang members in Guatemala, a gang tattoo isn't just a drunken mistake. The tattoos make them targets. The coverup tattoos help them show their humanity.

A bit of history

In 2011, Jeremiah Griswold, a University of Cincinnati grad, took a self-described six-month sabbatical. He sold his house and moved to Guatemala where he knew acquaintances involved in various volunteer efforts. He wanted to find his personal passions.

He got involved in prison reform while in La Limonada.

La Limonada is a mile away from the presidential palace in Guatemala City. It is the largest urban slum in Central America.

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Former gang member Juan says he wants his tattoos gone because he wants to live a normal life and forget his past. The pull of gang life is strong for some young Central American immigrants new to the U.S. Gangs can offer a much-desired sense of security and family.

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Guatemala was embroiled in a 36-year-long civil war, lasting from 1960 to 1996, after the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency backed a coup to replace the democratically-elected president thought to be a communist threat.

The war resulted in 200,000 casualties and poverty still felt to this day.

People turned to gangs — MS-13 and 18th Street being the most prominent — for family and for protection. But protection comes at a cost.

Griswold said a newspaper headline would read something like, "13 gang members found dead in a ditch," and speculate it was by the rival gang. But said rival gang would say it wasn't them. It was often the police, Jeremiah said.

This left people like Luiz, who left the gang but still had tattoos, feeling like a target.

"Every day he was afraid he'd be killed," Griswold said.

That makes the coverup tattoos life-saving.

Another visit

Griswold has been down to Guatemala to do cover-ups about 10 times since his initial visit. The shop makes it an annual tradition.

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Inside a Guatemalan gang prison, Jeremiah Griswold found his calling. Hear the incredible story of White This Cincy Tattoo Shop Is Helping Former Gang Members Cover Up Their Ink . What they give , they get back tenfold with stories, experiences and a deeper understanding of life and human

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Guatemalans are brought in to their temporary shop in groups of six to 10. The artists listen to their stories and ask for input on what kind of design they would like.

"A lot of times they're very open to whatever we can do," Griswold said.

Those in especially high-risk circumstances are prioritized on the waiting list. Some cover-ups take multiple trips to complete and some specific details on the designs are kept hush so as to not expose the individual who might still be targeted.

White Whale's main contact in Guatemala is Joel Aguilar, director of leadership development at the organization CMT Guatemala. Aguilar said the way others in the community interact with the former gang members drastically changes after the cover-up.

"Having a tattoo is still a bit of a taboo, but having something beautiful opens up the space for conversation and diminishes the space for rejection," he said.

The Griswolds plan to return to Guatemala next year to continue humanizing through ink. White Whale will hold a fundraiser Friday for Guatemala. Proceeds from all tattoos that day, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., will go toward the next trip.

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