Ministry offering new start for troubled gang members - KXXV-TV News Channel 25 - Central Texas News and Weather for Waco, Temple, Killeen |

WACO

Ministry offering new start for troubled gang members

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WACO - Gang activity is an issue across the state, especially in Central Texas, but four women are doing their part to reduce those numbers and help the younger members of those gangs get out.

"It affects people on so many levels. It changes their lives," St. Dismas Tattoo Removal Ministry Director Jeanne Arensman said.

That change began with an idea, 14 years ago Arensman realized there was a need for a tattoo removal service at the Texas Youth Commission facility in Mart. But it wasn't until one teenager was killed by members of his own gang because of his tattoos that she decided to do something.

"It won't be long when they are out there again for them to realize that  they need to get the tattoos off in order to change their life," Arensman said.

Police say these gang tattoos serve as a billboard or sign of ownership. Many are proud to be affiliated with a gang, but some want to get out and removing a tattoo is just one of many steps people take to help their future.

"Once people are trying to improve their lives and certainly it is something that can be done. But it is a little more difficult for them because typically once you are in a gang you are in it for life," Waco Police spokesman Patrick Swanton said.

The cost of this procedure can run hundreds of dollars depending on the size of the tattoo, but Arensman says her non-profit service is available for those who really need it. Not just people who are looking to get out of gangs, but those who looking to join the military, may be in a new relationship, or have a mistake from their past permanently removed.

"We give people a second chance to start over, and it would be wonderful if we could get the younger people to realize that before it has such an effect on their lives," Arensman said.

Since November 2007, her four member volunteer staff has removed hundreds of tattoos from teenagers at that Mart facility and in the community. Some recent consolidations in the youth prisons have temporarily prevented them from going back to Mart, but the Texas Juvenile Justice Department says the ministry will be back at the detention center soon.

"We think it is so important that is why we continue even when we have had a lagging in people coming to get their tattoos removed," Arensman said.

Meanwhile, they offer their services to the public for free every first Saturday of the month at the St. Peter's Catholic Student Center. The organization runs on donations, so until they run out of money the tattoo removal will remain free. If you would like to help in their effort, or need their help removing an unwanted tattoo you can reach Jeanne Arensman at 254-876-2277.
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