A life of crime motivated John Kenney to tattoo every inch of his body, including his eyeballs; nose; and tongue, as a fierce act of self-loathing.
Kenney, now at 60-years-old, has tattooed his body as a constant reminder of a violent and turbulent life. That life began with leaving his destructive home at 7-years-old.
While Kenney can’t remember why he was first locked up at age 9, he recalled that living on the streets made him an angry young man.
“I didn't have a very good family life, there was no love there, just hidings from both parents and even my brothers because they wanted my girlfriend,” he said.
Kenney lived on the streets and said he was raped by four men at 10-years-old. He slept behind dumpsters or inside clothing bins.
“I got raped when I first got inside a correctional center,” Kenney said. “Sometimes they would bring in the older guys to play basketball with the younger kids, and some turned out to be child molesters.”
At age 12, he emptied milk bottles on doorsteps to get recycling money. Kenney says he was “tempted by every drug except that thing they use now, the ice.”
From milk cartons to drug experimentation, he began breaking into homes before turning pimp.
“Yes, you could call me a gangster, I ran drugs, imported them, sold them,” Kennedy said. “They couldn't control me.”
Kenney became a drug mule and tattooed his face to “give him an identity.”
Kenney became so addicted to drugs as he grew up, that as his drug addiction came in full swing in the 1970s, he cut his finger off with a meat cleaver during a part-time job to claim compensation money.
“I did it because I needed it for the drugs,” Kenney admitted.
Kenney was paid $12,000 and the money lasted just under 14 days.
Soon after, his life became a calamitous cycle of crime, and getting locked up. Kenney became suicidal.
On one of several occasions in which he claims to have attempted suicide, he washed down half a bottle of Valium with a bottle of whiskey.
“That day I was gone, I started seeing spiders coming out of my arms and legs, every time I have tried to die I came back,” Kenney said.
At 18-years-old, his fascination with tattoos started. It would later bring on on Hepatitis C from a dirty needle.
Kenney says his psychologist thinks his tattoos come from self-loathing. Kenney says he “just loves it.”
“Maybe I've gone a bit too far, it is starting to look like I am inflicting pain on purpose,” he said.
However, that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to ink his skin.
“I have trouble making friends or keeping friends, but I've made friends and got an identity now that I tattooed my face, everyone is curious,” he added.
Kenney says he regrets “half of his life, from the day I was born until I straightened myself.”
“I think about the victims I left behind I feel sorry for, especially the house break ins,” he said. “It was just us alcoholics, we kept together in Fitzroy, I had a bottle put through my head because I was hanging around the back of houses.”
Kenney now focuses on the life he leads after straightening himself out.
He now has a permanent home with Wintringham Housing Aged Care, where he speaks to school students about the perils of drugs and dangers of unsafe tattooing. Kenney also an advocates for the homeless.
“I eat just once a week, I don't feel hungry but I have given up drinking and smoking,” Kenney said. “I have no emotions at all, haven't got the right tools for life.”
Kenney’s tattoos don’t tell specific stories of specific times in his life, but they are all constant reminders to keep bettering himself.