Tattoo removal program provides fresh start

  • Julie Borja, right, has some tattoos removed by Christina Chan, RN, at the Southwest Community Clinic in Santa Rosa, Thursday, January 31, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Cris Pulido was once a walking billboard for violence.

Thick black tattoos marred his neck and sprawled down his arms, back and legs. The symbols and slogans pled allegiance to the sure?s. Broken stars and phrases promised trouble for rival norte?s.

Just one look at him might start a fight.

"Without saying words, it was a challenge," said Pulido, 30, who grew up in Santa Rosa and now lives in Novato.

But since 2010, Pulido has been chipping away at that identity during the slow and painful process of removing his tattoos.

Each month, about 40 teenagers and adults like Pulido fill the waiting room at a Santa Rosa clinic for Clean Slate, the city's tattoo removal program run by Social Advocates for Youth.

They arrive to erase allegiances to gangs, former lovers and pimps. They arrive to remove obstacles to jobs. They come to undo what once seemed like indelible choices.

"People don't stare anymore," said Pulido, who has endured 18 sessions in about two years, with breaks to allow his skin to heal. "People treat me normal now."

Today, the thick black tattoos on his neck are barely visible.

Entering its fifth year in Santa Rosa, Clean Slate uses laser technology to remove tattoos through a painful procedure that hurts more than getting a tattoo.

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