I’m so excited to have you be done with this tattoo,” INK 180’s founder, fully-sleeved Chris Baker, says as he begins removing a tattoo from Nicole, a human trafficking survivor, in a video with Total Living Network.
Chris Baker is a tattoo artist in Oswego, Illinois, who does things a little differently. He covers or removes tattoos on human trafficking survivors and former gang members.
“I’d walk into the lunchroom, and they’d see whatever tattoo I got done over the weekend and say, ‘Man, I wish I could have nice tattoos like you do. All I have are these stupid, old, gang tattoos,’ ” Chris Baker told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
And that’s when, Chris says, it clicked. His 15-year career in tattooing was what God was asking him to use—as a ministry.
Depending on size, design, color variety and placement, a tattoo can cost into the thousands, authoritytattoo.com reports. And tattoo removal is even more expensive; tataway.com advises tattoo removal can cost anywhere from $50 to $800 per treatment, and most tattoos require multiple treatment sessions, depending on size and method.
Bottom line: Getting or removing tattoos isn’t cheap.
And when you have a hard time finding a job because you have tattoos on your face, your neck or your hands, it makes it impossible to start over.
So, Chris Baker started removing or covering tattoos for former gang members who couldn’t afford it. Because, even after leaving a life of gangs, identifying tattoos can be dangerous; Chris explains to CBN how former gang friends feel it’s false advertising, and former enemies think you’re still an enemy. Though Chris was never part of a gang himself, he had many friends who were, and he saw the danger and heartache first hand.
Chris’ idea took off, and pretty soon, INK 180, Chris Baker’s tattoo-shop-turned-ministry, got noticed by a Homeland Security agent, who asked him to speak to their gang unit. And their trafficking unit.
But Chris Baker says he was confused. He didn’t see how drug trafficking had anything to do with it. But it wasn’t drugs they were talking about.
More Than Just Ink For Human Trafficking Survivors
The trafficking unit showed him the haunting 8×10 photos of tattoos on human trafficking victims: bar codes, traffickers’ names, vulgar images, words, rules for the women, contact information. Business cards for pimps.
“They took my art medium that I love and care about so much and made it disgusting,” Chris continued with CBN.
Then they showed him photos of the girls’ faces, and Chris Baker broke down in tears. They looked just like his daughter and her friends.
They asked him if he’d be willing to extend his service of covering or removing tattoos to removing them from human trafficking survivors. Chris Baker couldn’t say no.
“They’re very, very shattered people,” Chris told CBN. “I’ve had girls collapse on the floor in tears…because just the fact that they know they don’t have to look at that again, and that it doesn’t have a hold on them.”
Freedom And Healing In Ink
A wall in the INK 180 tattoo shop is covered with handprints of rescued women they’ve served. Even one as young as 13 years old, who was kidnapped in a Des Moines, Iowa mall and trafficked for two years. She was rescued in Chicago. Now, her body is free of that anguishing identification.
For the former gang members, Chris’s INK 180 shop has a room where cables display bandanas. When a gang member is free of his unwanted gang tattoos, he hangs one that represents the color of his former gang. Chris says they’ve got bandanas from Chicagoland’s gangs, including Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Imperial Gangsters and Bloods.
Gang’s all here, if you will.
Since INK 180 began in 2011, they’ve removed or covered over 2,200 tattoos—free of charge.
Now, INK 180 is taking the shop on the road. INK 180 has purchased an RV and is renovating it to be a Mobile Tattoo Removal Unit. Chris will take the RV when he travels to speak at events at churches and schools around the country.
If you, or someone you know, is a survivor of human trafficking or a former gang member who wants to be done with haunting tattoos, Chris Baker and INK 180 can help. Connect with Chris at www.INK180.com and on Facebook.