News / Edmonton

Tattoo removal studio helps former gang members, abuse victims erase the past

“Getting rid of that mark, that stain on your life, it’s a game changer.”

Ben Alway, the owner of Second Skin Tattoo Removal, removes tattoos for those looking to turn over a new leaf.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Ben Alway, the owner of Second Skin Tattoo Removal, removes tattoos for those looking to turn over a new leaf.

For the young woman, the smudgy black stars at the corner of her eye were a permanent reminder of the abusive boyfriend who forced her to submit to the homemade tattoo.

She’d been working with youth worker Mark Cherrington to leave her past behind, but wasn’t able to escape the marks inked into her skin.

Finally, Cherrington found Ben Alway, owner of Second Skin Tattoo Removal, who got to work.

“She needed to separate from that and start her life over. And this tattoo is kind of a hindrance to healing, both from physically trying to find a job, but also just mentally,” Alway said.

In the last few years, Alway’s downtown studio has become a stopping point for an increasing number of clients leaving abusive or criminal pasts behind.

He’s donated his services to remove about 10 such tattoos in the last year or so alone.

Alway spends most of his time running the typical tattoo removal business he started eight years ago. But after being approached by a parole officer a few years ago he’s made time for pro bono clients: Typically former criminals with visible tattoos who are looking to reintegrate into society or young offenders whose tattoos could put them in danger.

“Kids don’t need gang tattoos on them that can easily make their rehabilitation and turning their life around very challenging,” he said.

Alway said most clients come via referrals from parole officers, or other professionals, like Cherrington.

“My qualification is I don’t want to do this for some jackass who’s going to then turn around and reoffend and I’ve wasted my time,” Alway said. “I really make sure it’s people who need it.”

Removing a tattoo by laser is a lengthy process: typically requiring between 5 and 10 sessions, spaced a couple of months apart.

Cherrington said Alway's work is a crucial part of the healing process.  

His client with the face tattoo recently got her own place and has her kids back.

“Having a tattoo on your face, the stigma associated with that, the barriers that puts up? It makes a person unemployable, it stereotypes you into the category of being on the streets,” Cherrington said.  

“Getting rid of that mark, that stain on your life, it’s a game changer.”

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