Any time I get a chance, I like to stroll into the offices of CTM Guatemala with Joel and join in whatever’s happening – training, planning, whatever it is, I love being a part of it.
I never anticipated strolling out of his office with a tattoo, but it happened.
A few weeks back, friends from White Whale Tattoo in Cincinnati, Ohio, came to Guatemala for a truly unique purpose – covering up tattoos.
Joel spread the news around CTM’s network and found a long list of people who wanted coverups for different reasons. Some were simply covering poor work; others represented a life left behind. The end result was that CTM’s downstairs training room was converted into a tattoo parlor for three full days. As people came in and out, they were not only given a new tattoo, but also an opportunity to share their stories.
The stories were heartbreaking, beautiful, inspiring, maddening – often, all in one. The past that was being covered deserved to be covered; the new tattoos represented a beautiful, painful journey toward redemption.
However, one cover up reminded me that there’s another side to each tattoo’s story:
(names withheld for privacy)
W sweated and struggled her way through a tattoo on her right thigh. Her visible discomfort made me question whether or not I’d be able to handle the pain myself. I tried to distract her with stories and questions and potential tattoo designs, but it was difficult to keep her engaged. Slowly, the name of her daughter, intertwined with intricate flowers, took shape, covering the name of her ex-boyfriend, M.
With each line of the tattoo, I could see less of M’s name.
I understand why W wanted to cover M’s name. He’s an ex. He’s in prison. She has to move forward. But, I know M. The very name W was covering up is the name of a boy whose story I hold dear to my heart.
I met M at one of my first Vida Joven camps in Guatemala – he was a tough kid, but had fun at camp and desired to turn his life around. After camp, I saw him begin to make different decisions. Instead of hanging out on the corner, he was hanging out at club. Instead of running with his old crowd, he was running with Fito’s crowd at Vida Joven.
As we were celebrating the changes in M’s life, his past caught up to him. An undercover police operation in Z3 implicated M for crimes of his past. Despite his deep desire to change, M was pulled off the streets and thrown into a Guatemalan prison.
Due to the reality of the criminal justice system in Guatemala, M will probably spend the rest of his life in a prison controlled by violent gangs.
M’s imprisonment sent me on a journey examining my convictions related to justice, redemption, and second chances. Do I think that people should be free from consequences? No. Absolutely not. But, do I think that a teenager should spend the rest of his life inside a broken system bent against the poor and toward those who can bribe their way out? No. Absolutely not.
As I watched M’s name disappear, I wanted to scream, “STOP.” We cannot lose M. We cannot cover him up. We must keep his story alive!
But, this tattoo was not M’s tattoo; it was W’s. She needed to move forward for both herself and her daughter. She needed a clean slate. She desired to see beauty rise from the ashes of her life.
Line by line, M’s name disappeared from W’s leg while a new creation took its place.
I guess it’s up to us now – those of us who know M – to keep him present in our memories, to pray for his protection, for his future, to not allow time to wipe him out of our lives.