"Getting a tattoo will change your life." We've heard it ten thousand times by now—both from artists boasting about their skills and fearful parents. Even if it is true, your appearance is forever altered, it does feel a little hyperbolic.
At least, it does until you consider the work that Jeremiah Griswold has been doing with the White Whale Foundation. Griswold and his team of artists make a yearly trip to Guatemala to help former gang members get rid of their tattoos.
Gangs are an enormous problem in the Central American country, with many people getting sucked into their orbit at a very young age. Getting out of the life can be incredibly difficult and dangerous. Those that have a gang-related tattoo carry both the stigma of their former life, but are also at risk of being arrested or targeted for violence from rival gangs.
Covering up these tattoos is a way for former gang members to start fresh. Griswold learned this firsthand during his apprenticeship when he visited a Guatemalan gang prison and volunteered to help inmates cover up their tattoos. The work was a daunting challenge for Griswold. "It's definitely worth it to see something that symbolizes something that someone wants to get rid of, or is something that they are embarrassed about," Griswold says. "Something they feel is not a part of who they are anymore. "
In the video, you'll hear Griswold tell Luis' story. Where Luis once had a gang tattoo he now has a cupcake, indicative of how he has changed his life.
People spend so much time thinking about the meaning of their tattoos, but few of us can actually say that a tattoo was able to change our lives, to keep us safe. The men and women that the White Whale Foundation works with on their trips are able to say that without any exaggeration.
Griswold and crew are making one final push to fund this year's journey. If you want to help them change some lives, visit their GoFundMe page here. Every little bit helps.