Client Stories

INK-nitiative: Ex Neo-Nazis Road to Redemption

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Published: 02.09.2021
Updated: 09.23.2023

INK-nitiative 

INK-nitiative is a community outreach initiative designed to provide safe, effective, and free tattoo removal on the hands, neck, and face for those in need and who were formerly incarcerated, gang members, survivors of human trafficking and those who wish to remove hate symbols or racist tattoos. For every paying person who completes their tattoo removal journey, Removery will provide a removal service for someone who qualifies for the program.

Disclaimer: All INK-nitative applicants must have a demonstrated history of exemplifying our core values (trustworthy, passionate, focused, purposeful, effective). They also must provide a recommendation letter from an official advocate in order to qualify for the program. After the application process, we meet with each individual applicant and determine qualifying candidates.

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Robyn’s Story In Her Own Words

“Some say that tattoos are a roadmap of a person’s life. Mine are GPS points from two years of my 49 years of life – two years of horror, two years of unspeakable shame.”

As my husband and I traveled to Removery in Philadelphia for my first tattoo laser session, I thought about the secret I have harbored for more than thirty years. In the late 1980s, I was a neo-Nazi skinhead girl from the age of 17 to 19 years old. It felt overwhelming that after all this time I was starting a crucial step in healing by erasing the racist tattoos that have plagued my body for so many years.

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Innocence Lost

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Traumatized from rape, incest, my mother’s death, and domestic violence, I first got entangled with skinheads after meeting a man much older than me. I had been connected with the inclusive New Wave movement in Orlando, Florida, before my dad relocated to Fort Lauderdale after my mother’s death, resulting in me losing close contact with my friends, my support system.

That older man was not an extremist, but he was a loser who I had met shortly after I was released from the hospital for attempted suicide. He was 27, and I was 16. I used to hitchhike to see him. Homeless, he lived behind an abandoned bar off Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. This relationship led to the next one, the more dangerous one, the one who would scar my life forever.

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In The Neo-Nazi Movement

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I moved in with “Gator” after knowing him for all of a few hours. I was 17, and he was in his early 20s. Although, I never saw his ID. Before we even got involved with extremists, I endured his jealousy, violence, and rage. If a man looked at me, he would knock his teeth out. Soon, he isolated me from my friends and began threatening me with violence. I could not go home because waiting at home was a family member who was abusive. My father had moved, abandoning me to this fate.

 

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My Actions Sadden Me

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We left South Florida as “Gator” faced legal trouble and used his brother’s identity with the police, embarking on a journey through Orlando, Atlanta, Birmingham, and eventually St. Paul, where we found refuge within violent white supremacist circles. During that time, I witnessed brutal boot parties, shouted hate-filled slogans, sang white power songs, and engaged in recruiting new members. My complicity in these actions and my role in pairing punk girls with skinheads deeply trouble me, as many of them were abusive. The group’s discussions revolved around a looming race war, and they aimed to infiltrate institutions like the police, military, and politics over the course of three decades. I even attended the inaugural Aryan Musical Festival in Oklahoma, participating in a fake wedding with my boyfriend, while influential figures like White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger emphasized the need for skinheads to integrate into mainstream society.

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Branded By Nazi Captor

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My boyfriend, “Gator,” never worked because he was on the run, so he earned money by giving tattoos. At various times, he branded me with nine tattoos including two Nazi symbols. Once, I tried to end it with him, and he tried to murder me. I can still see his cold, soulless blue eyes glaring as he pinned me down, his knees on my chest, and cut me with a razor blade. Six weeks later, I went back to him. I was so far gone. I finally escaped him when the FBI caught him for fleeing over state lines. “Gator” and other skins tried to kill a group that was similar to what you, today, call ANTIFA. I thought the FBI would arrest me, too, for aiding and abetting; so seeing him taken away in handcuffs, I felt reborn.

Her Redemption

My friends tell me, “You were a lost teen.” I know now that I yearned for somewhere to belong, somewhere I felt strong, and somewhere I felt no one would "mess with me." The shame is still suffocating. None of the physical pain has prevented me from trying to use my emotional trauma as a model to help other troubled kids overcome their hardships, so they can believe that anything is possible. I have worked with at-risk kids for eight years. I am a wife, a mom, and a grandmother of three. My guilt has always kept me from truly achieving real success.

I have spent decades trying to heal, learn, grow, and redeem. I have attended counseling off-and-on for years, and I will likely need therapy for the rest of my life.

My significant trauma resulted in a diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. CPTSD is the consequence of long-term exposure to trauma or adverse childhood experiences. People who suffer with CPTSD struggle with emotional regulation, self-perception, and often possess distorted systems of “meanings.” The latter is when victims believe there is no justice or no good in the world because of the horror they have experienced. Go to Beauty After Bruises to learn more.

Research into adverse childhood experience (ACEs) has discovered that children who have endured even one ACE are more likely to develop chronic health issues as adults. Protective factors can assist with overcoming adversity to lead successful lives and fight disease. One of the best protective factors for overcoming trauma is a safe, stable relationship. For many, this is often a teacher or a mentor. For me, this was both of those and my former mother-in-law who is still my friend. My protective factors ensured that I did not wind up dead on the street, but they did not save me from chronic illness. I had early stage breast cancer at 35 (what killed my mother), 14 major surgeries, and I live with autoimmune disorders.

Tattoo Removal Journey

I cannot describe the catharsis I felt as Anna began to remove my tattoos. I can now envision a future where I can wear short sleeves, no longer have to explain to a doctor that I am not a Nazi, and no longer have to see a reminder of my abuser’s fingers on me. I am ready to forgive myself and share my story. One of my best friends of 30 years asked me why am I willing to tell my story now.

I cannot describe the catharsis I felt as Anna began to remove my tattoos. I can now envision a future where I can wear short sleeves, no longer have to explain to a doctor that I am not a Nazi, and no longer have to see a reminder of my abuser’s fingers on me. I am ready to forgive myself and share my story. One of my best friends of 30 years asked me why am I willing to tell my story now.

I am beginning to feel free for the first time in my life. I am starting to feel as if I can finally heal that teenage girl who was abandoned and who was so full of self-hatred that she wanted to hate the world

Her story is one of many ink-nitiative clients seeking redemption from their extremist past. Whether their lost, seeking refuge or overcoming hate, Removery is dedicated to eradicate these constraints that hold people like Robyn from overcoming their past. Anna from Removery Philadelphia shared a few words about Robyn’s journey from a laser techs perspective.

“Meeting Robyn on her removal journey has been so rewarding, she has taken accountability for her past and is now owning her future. It’s truly transformative to watch the hate and unpleasant reminders fade away in her skin. I look forward to her tattoos being completely removed so she can finally feel free from the past. She has such a wonderful and caring personality and finally people will be able to see that without a physical roadblock getting in the way!”

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Referred By The Free Radicals

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Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist, and leader of the Free Radicals project referred her to Removery’s Ink-nitiative program. This project aims to aid “individuals, and their families or communities, in exiting hateful and violence-based radicalization”. Learn more about Christian and his work by visiting the website of the free radicals.

Free Radicals Project
Carmen VanderHeiden Brodie Carmen Brodie VP Clinical Operations

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