Angel of Long Beach joined a gang at just 14 years old and over the years, he acquired gang tattoos all over his face, hands, arms and back.
He started receiving free gang tattoo removal from Dr. Kane through Erase the Past in 2002 and has been actively involved in the program for 6 years. When he first came to Dr. Kane, he had a total of 14 tattoos – Since then he has received 40 treatments and completed 180 hours of community service.
Today, his face is free of tattoos as is much of his body — although some reminders of the past still remain as he continues to have tattoos removed.
When he first came to Dr. Kane and made the tough decision to leave the gang life behind, he couldn’t even get a job because of the judgment that was written on his face in gang symbols. Since then, he has turned his life around: He has a stable job and was able to fulfill his dream of marrying his long-time girlfriend. Today, at 28, Angel even brings his impressionable young children to the Erase the Past clinics to help plant the seeds early and prevent them from falling victim to the lure of the gangs, by showing them the hard cold truth behind them and what it takes to break free.
Nary Rong joined an Asian gang when she was just a child at 11 years old. By the young age of 13, she was literally covered in 9 tattoos – From her shoulders to her back to her wrists and forearms, she was marked with large tattoos which would have left her marked for life had she not been introduced to Erase the Past. Covered with 11 tattoos when she first came to Dr. Kane, Nary now has only 2 tattoos left and has received a total of 26 treatments and performed 110 hours of community service.
She originally joined the gang at 11 as a support system to replace what she wasn’t getting at home because her mother, who had immigrated from Cambodia, was working around the clock in an effort to give her children the best life she could. Nary’s mother still tells her stories of how she escaped the Khymer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia – while several of her siblings weren’t so fortunate and literally died (some of starvation) as she tried helplessly to keep the family together.
As a result of her mother’s tough work ethic and her quest to provide for her family, young Nary was often alone and found herself walking home alone from school when she was barely out of kindergarten.
Her mother’s hard work paid off materially when she was finally able to buy the family a house, largely with money she earned collecting the deposits on refundable cans and bottles. But she ultimately paid a high price when she found her daughter deeply immersed in gang life. On drugs, Nary spiraled out of control. Her mother decided to spend nearly half of her hard-earned savings to send her daughter to a private girls home in the hopes of straightening her out.
But when she finally got out of the girls home, Nary rebelled more violently than ever. Until one day Nary got a wake-up call: She found out she was pregnant. Because she was on crack cocaine and had been a heavy drug user from the time she was 12, her doctors urged her to consider an abortion as they said that the odds of her having a healthy baby were minimal at best.
But Nary wouldn’t listen to them. Instead, her pregnancy became the turning point of her life. She got clean and she made a commitment to fight for her baby’s life and health at all costs.
Amazingly, the despite all of the damage she had done to her body through 4 years of drug use, Nary gave birth to a baby girl who was healthy with the exception of an abdomen abnormality.
Becoming a mother was Nary’s motivation to turn her life around. Today, at 26, she is a devoted mother to her 10-year-old daughter. Despite her smiles, she bears a heavy burden of care: Not only does she care for her daughter, but also for her 21-year-old sister who has Downs syndrome and whose mental age is the equivalent of a child, for her little brother and for her mother who now has leukemia. Originally diagnosed in 1991 with leukemia, Nary’s mother was told she would only live 5 years – She beat all of the odds and has survived for 17 years although the disease is taking a heavy toll on her.
Nary now describes herself as “the father figure” in her house and says “I am repaying my sins” as a care-giver who is now keeping the family together.
Today, a confident, poised young woman who works for a law firm, Nary remembers a time when the tattoos trapped her: “Even if I wanted to change, every day I would look at myself and see this tattoo and feel like I didn’t change.”
Of Erase the Past she says “it changed my whole life.”
Maricela started getting amateur, unsafe tattoos at just 13 years and ended up with 4 tattoos in total. With a gang-related tattoo, things looked bleak for the young girl – until she was introduced to Dr. Kane. Since then, she has performed 45 hours of community service and has had 9 treatments and her tattoos are almost gone. She has her life on track and is now a sophomore at Los Angeles Harbor College – studying criminal science to be become a CSI with the Police Department. She has a 4.0 GPA and aspirations to buy a house. As she says, “I am a totally different person now.”
At just 4 years old, young Maricela ended up in the foster care system – and she remained in it for her entire childhood. 9 foster homes and 3 group homes in total, all over Southern California. Life was uncertain and scary for the young girl who never had a place to call home. She says of one of the group homes – “It seemed like a jail with doors” “I wanted freedom.” With a mother who abandoned her and few other options in life, Maricela turned to her boyfriend who was in a gang who lured her into the lifestyle. When she found out that she was pregnant at 15, she decided it was time to get out and to try to give her baby a better life. At 15, she scraped together every cent she had and worked non-stop to get her own apartment –without any help. For the past 7 years, the young woman who never had a home or any stability in life, has dedicated herself to providing those necessities to her son who is about to turn 7 and who is an honors student in 2nd grade. As Maricela said, “I did everything in my power” to give him a better life than she had ever known. Today, she has re-established contact with the mother who gave her up at 4 years old and is working to make up for lost time.
Damaris ran away from home at 17 with her boyfriend and joined what she thought was a peace-loving anti-establishment work/trade commune off the grid in a tiny rural town and found her trust betrayed, when they started acquiring guns as if arming for violence. An idealistic young woman, Damaris describes herself as “against consumer society” and “anti-materialistic.” Noble goals gone awry. In her own words, “I didn’t want to be part of mainstream society” and had “major problems with authority.” Today, she is an honors transfer program at El Camino – living in Torrance and working to rebuild her life by tutoring adults. Intelligent and thoughtful, she now regrets the Clown gang style tattoos that mark her face – some of which she applied herself — and attract stares and unwanted attention that makes it difficult for her to feel comfortable in public.