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Youths given chance to "Erase the Past"

January 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Damaris Olaechea has tattoos on her arms, her hands and her face; they're symbols of her rebellious teenage years. But now the former gang member is having the tattoos removed to help put the past behind her."So I can have more options in my future, that's the main reason," said Olaechea.

Olaechea's mother, Osmara, says she has made a dramatic change from her old days.

"She really has changed her life," said Osmara Arias. "She is going to school and is a straight-A student. She's been looking for a job."

Long Beach Dermatologist, Dr. Bryna Kane, and a partner started the "Erase the Past" program 11-years ago to help former gang members, at-risk teens and young adults change their lives.

"We've done over 4,000 young people in the last decade, and at least 38 percent of our graduates have (gotten back) into society," said Dr. Kane. "They have jobs and are working toward goals."

Tattoo removal normally costs thousands of dollars, but through the "Erase the Past Program" it's free in exchange for community service.

It's a small tattoo, but for Maria Hernandez getting it removed is a big step. She's shedding a reminder of a relationship with a gang member and starting a career in nursing.

"It's hard, because people look at you different," said Hernandez. "Every time they see you have a tattoo, they automatically think that you're a gangster. I'm not and I never have been. I just got involved with the wrong people."

It takes several painful treatments to erase the past, but it leads to a brighter future.


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