A new program in the Inland Empire is giving people a second chance in life by removing unwanted tattoos.
David Loya started getting tattoos removed from his face, and he admits its painful.
"It hurts worse than getting tattoos," Loya said.
But the 34-year-old who grew up in Fontana says it is well worth it, because the tattoos are a constant reminder of his life in gangs and prisons.
"I was hurt. I thought there was no exit. I thought, 'well this is the only life that I know and I feel accepted here,' and I got my tattoos as a way of saying this is who I am," he said.
But he said a few years ago he realized he didn't want this type of life anymore, so he made a promise to himself while in jail.
"I was facing a life term in prison, I said to myself this is not where I want to be," he said.
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When he was released from jail, he heard about a tattoo removal program at Loma Linda University Medical Center, started by trauma surgeon Dr. Sigrid Burruss.
"As you can imagine, having some of these visible tattoos can provide a significant challenge when it comes to applying for a job and getting employment," Burruss said.
Dr. Burruss says laser tattoo removal can cost thousands of dollars but Loma Linda’s program is free, thanks to grants and community partnerships. She also says it is helping patients change the course of their lives.
"It's a very involved process. The patient really needs to be engaged, wanting this change in their life, because they do need to come back to see us five, six, seven, or eight times," Dr. Burruss said.
It can take months to remove the tattoos.
But Loya says the results are life changing.
"I look into the mirror and I see the man who I want to become," he said.
He now works for Cityway Community Economic Development Corporation, which helps lower income people get housing and jobs.
"I love it because I now help people transition from prison into successful reentry," Loya said.
Starting over is something he is very familiar with as he erases the ink of his past.
"Full transformation starting from the inside. I don't want this life. Now my outside is getting transformed as well. I'm super thankful," he said.