In 2015, Brian was arrested for drug trafficking and sentenced to 19-and-a-half years in jail. The brothers whom he thought cared about him stopped contacting him. They did not even check in with his family.
“I started to realise that I was on the wrong path,” he said.
Brian renounced his gang in 2016, eager to sever ties and prove to his family that he could make things right. He is slated for release in 2028.
Before-and-after pictures show a large portion of Brian’s tattoo has been wiped off, except for stubborn blotches of green and yellow on his shoulder. He has attended more than 10 tattoo removal sessions in prison since 2016.
“I want to clear my tattoo to draw a line with all my friends that I want to stay clean, and let my family know that I really want to change,” he said.
Brian recalled the “terrible” pain he felt during his first session, describing it as a burning sensation on his skin. But he said it was worth it and that he felt rejuvenated looking at the results. “I feel very fresh,” he said.
During visits, Brian sometimes shows the progress of his tattoo removal to his mother, adding that she is pleased with it and encouraged him not to mix with the same friends upon release.
“It’s a good chance to laser it off and some more it is free. So, I grabbed it,” he said.
MILESTONE TO START OVER
Dr Tam said tattoo removal outside could cost between S$50 and S$100 a session for a small tattoo, while a larger tattoo could set patients back more than S$1,000 a session.
A small and easy-to-remove tattoo, such as a mark over the eyebrow, could take three sessions to remove, while larger and more difficult tattoos could take up to 30 sessions.
Beyond the cost and time needed, Dr Tam pointed to a greater significance for inmates who remove their tattoos: A “milestone” for them to start over.
“Whether we completely remove it is one thing, but when the people out there see that they have attempted to remove the tattoos, it actually helps people to realise that they are trying very hard to turn over a new leaf and maybe they deserve a second chance.”