I live and work in Los Angeles. Every time I step into the Emergency Department of my hospital, I am exposed to the vast and fantastic cultural and ethnic diversity in this city. I meet and intimately interact with people of every color and from every socioeconomic stratum. We are different, yet we are the same. It's a gift to know and embrace this truth.
Compelled to give something back to this great city, I started about eight years ago volunteering to do tattoo removal at Homeboy Industries. The organization was founded by Father Gregory Boyle and is recognized as the largest gang-intervention and re-entry-into-society program in the county. "Nothing stops a bullet like a job" and "Jobs not jail" are its mottos.
The tattoo-removal program is aimed at eradicating the inked obstacles that stand in the way of employment for ex-gang members, ex-prisoners, young kids from detention camps who arrive in shackles and anyone who wants to make a change to improve his or her life and self-esteem. I happily return to my "homies" several times a month to "blast away the past." The tattoo removal is done by laser; it is free, but it's a painful, intense process. Taking off the ink hurts much more than putting it on. After waiting on a list for up to two years, my patients begin treatments, returning every six-to-eight weeks for five-to-10 sessions, until all the ink is obliterated. The stories I hear are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting. I've learned so much. And every single person says "Thank you."
For me, it is immensely gratifying. I am able to contribute to the shot at redemption that my fellow Angelinos seek, to help those who grew up under the same L.A. sky as I did but who lived lives that seem light years away from my childhood in Westwood. These young men and women bravely walk through the doors of Homeboy Industries toward a better life by literally erasing some of their past.
For more information about Homeboy Industries or to volunteer in the laser tattoo-removal program, visit: http://homeboy-industries.org