Haunted by tattoos: The struggle to escape the past

Francisco Hernandez gets a tattoo removed at the “Nothing Stops a Bullet like a Job” resource fair.
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Francisco Gonzalez has been in and out of jail many times in his life.

“I’ve only been out on three of my birthdays in the last 20 years. I missed a lot,” he said. “It’s just time to grow up.”

Freshly paroled, he’s in a rehab program at New Directions, a facility in Stockton, and he’s got a lot of work ahead of him.

“Guns, drugs—stuff like that. It’s just a childish way of thinking, you know? I’m just trying to put all of that aside,” Gonzalez said.

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Step one is making it through treatment. This is his fourth try at New Directions, but recent experiences may have convinced Francisco to stick with it this time.

“Two months ago, I went to jail like five times that month,” he said. “I’m used to doing time and I just got burned out on it. I couldn’t do it no more. It was just overwhelming--losing everything, starting over again—it was too much to bear.”

The 10 Words team met Francisco at the “Nothing Stops a Bullet like a Job” resource fair. Fathers & Families of San Joaquin organized it as a way for parolees in the community to overcome some of the many obstacles to rehabilitation, especially when it comes to finding employment.

Job recruiters and resume consultants were on hand, but it was the inkoff.me tattoo removal area that seemed like the most popular stop for attendees.

“Tattoos and records, they haunt you. They’re a past you, that you used to be,” said Andrew Lucero of Fathers & Families.

“I’m glad they’re gone,” said Francisco, after finally getting rid of the gang tats on his hands. He hopes it’ll make it easier for him to land a job.

“A lot of times, I would go to get a job application and they would just look at me,” he said. “They just listen to what you’ve got going on and they’re just like, ‘Oh man, we don’t want to deal with this kind of person.’”

Even though he can’t start applying for work until he’s four months into his rehab program, things are looking good.

“All the staffing agencies, they told me, ‘As soon as you’re ready, we’re ready for you.’ That’s a good thing to hear.”

10 Words will continue to follow Francisco through his journey. Check back for updates over the next few months.