Free clinic in Sacramento helps erase a tattooed past

08/26/2013 12:00 AM

09/04/2013 8:34 AM

Would you trust a drug counselor who sported a marijuana leaf tattoo on the back of his head?

Probably not, which is why Johnny Gagliano, a substance abuse counselor with Consortium for Community Services, was at a free laser tattoo-removal clinic Sunday.

"It really helps people trying to turn their lives around," said Gagliano, 44, of Sacramento, who is attending the free clinic by inkoff.me for the fifth time.

Gagliano was one of 68 people who had tattoos removed at the headquarters of SANE (Safer Alternatives thru Networking & Education) in the Oak Park neighborhood.

Inkoff.me, which operates a facility at 4601 H Street in Sacramento, specializes in laser tattoo and hair removal. It holds a free clinic every other month to remove tattoos that might prevent people from getting a job.

These are usually tattoos on the face, neck and hands, or ones that contain hate messages or symbols, according to Chris Bendinelli, a registered nurse and laser technician, who helped create inkoff.me.

"Our typical client is a gang member or someone who has prison tattoos," he said. "We had one person who had the words 'F--- you' on his forehead. It's hard to get a job with that on your face."

Most dermatologists can remove tattoos, but usually charge $150 per square inch, according to Bendinelli. The company usually charges $50 a square inch, but will reduce the fee for clients who attend the free clinics if they decide to follow up at inkoff.me's office.

Black ink tattoos usually require four to six treatments for complete removal, while colored tattoos may take six to eight treatments.

On Sunday, Barbara Schach, a nurse practitioner, performed most of the laser work. She did a test spot on a tattoo to calibrate the proper intensity of the laser. Once the laser is calibrated, she goes over the design of the tattoo until it turns pale, which means that the ink has been broken up under the skin. For many of the tattoos Sunday, it takes anywhere between two to five minutes for a treatment.

After a six- to eight-week period, in which the patient should not expose the treated area to any sunlight, the ink is absorbed into the blood, and passed out of the body.

Gagliano got most of his tattoos, which included an eye and the word "Norcal" on the back of his head, as well as numerous others on his arms, in 2002, when he was serving a 10-year-term at Folsom Prison for selling drugs. He also was a drug addict for 20 years.

But after getting out in 2006, he took courses at the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources, became clean and sober, and decided he wanted to be certified as a drug counselor.

He now works for the Consortium for Community Services, and provides services to mentally ill parolees, and last year, he started the process of removing some of his prison tattoos.

"It helps me with my self-esteem," he said. "What Chris (Bendinelli) is doing is amazing. I even got a busload of my clients to come here."

Sara Goeman, 34, of Bayport came Sunday to have a star with flames around it, which resembled a pentagram, removed from her right forearm.

"I'm going to be a schoolteacher and I want to erase a former bad decision I made in my youth to help kids to make good decisions in the future," she said.

Stephen Ada, 39, of North Highlands, came to have a smoking gun tattoo on the right side of his neck removed. He got the tattoo, as well as gang markings on his face, while serving a four-year sentence in Susanville for battery.

"I wasn't able to stay out of prison for two months at a time," he said. "I had no hope for the future."

But since having two kids – Stephen Jr., 7, and Logan, 6 months, he wanted to do away with his past. "I wanted to set a better example for my children," he said.

Ada currently works as a smog technician in Citrus Heights but is going to American River College to become an automotive mechanic. "I'm in the public eye, and I need to be professional," he said.

Jaclyn Lorta, 34, of Sacramento, was attending her third free clinic to remove the name of her former husband, Bronco, from the right side of her neck. She had the tattoo inked in 2002 but had the word "void" cover the name in 2008, when the couple split, so inkoff.me was working on removing two tattoos, one on top of another.

Lorta has been getting tattoos since she was age 12. "It was a lifestyle," she said.

But now with five kids and her current husband in prison, she needs to find a job. "A lot of people judge me – that you're a thug, and just being less than a person," she said. "They (employers) won't tell you why they're not hiring you, but you have to prove yourself more."

She has been coming to all of the inkoff.me clinics this year. "It's a blessing, because a lot of people can't afford it," she said. "I would highly recommend this. I put it on my Facebook page."

Officials at inkoff.me said they plan to hold another free laser tattoo removal clinic in late October, although the exact date and place have yet to be determined. For more information on inkoff.me clinics, go to its website: www.inkoff.me.

Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.

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