Ex-Gang Members Get A Glimpse Of The Life They Could Have And It’s Emotional


When photographer Steven Burton started the Skin Deep project, he wanted ex-gang members to see photographs of what they’d look like without tattoos. To accomplish this, Steven collected countless photographs, and spent over 400 hours painstakingly photoshopping away every tattoo from each individual, revealing what they would have looked like had their lives taken a different direction. Burton’s goal was to show how society judges these men, and, in turn, how these men judge themselves.

Emotions pour out of these individuals when they see themselves without tattoos.


As if freed from their past, for just a few minutes, these men suddenly open up about their life and their regrets. They speak candidly about the people they’ve hurt, from friends, to parents, to their own children. They confess how much of their lives they’ve wasted in jail cells or in pursuit of a gang lifestyle. And as they look at their tattooless image, you can almost see in their face a glimmer of hope that maybe hasn’t been there in a while. It’s as if they can see life beyond their past for the first time. On the Kickstarter page for Skin Deep, Burton writes, “This book puts a very human face on a group of people that our society is so often too quick to demonize.”

The photos from the Skin Deep project will be turned into a book, and a percentage of the profits will go to Homeboy Industries.


The Skin Deep project has been a massive undertaking by Steven Burton, as well as the fantastic Homeboy Industries. For those who don’t know, Homeboy Industries is a Los Angeles-based non-profit that “provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” With these collected photos, Steve and company are looking to turn this project into a book, around 172 pages they estimate. However, the project still needs funding from supporters — as of today, they are about $7,000 short, with five days to go. You can pledge money for this project at the Skin Deep Kickstarter page.

For anyone who is interested, Homeboy Industries performs around 3,000 free tattoo removal treatments each month. For more information, check out Homeboy Industries’ website here.


The transformations in the video are shocking.

They also reveal a truth about the stigma behind men and women with tattoos. Face tattoos in particular.

And so many of the men in the video conceded to feeling emotional about their tattoo-less images.

So many of the men in the images admitted to feel pained by the isolation and stigma of their tattoos. Some detailed stories of being shunned on buses and avoided in streets.

Some of them even teared up.

While others admitted that their tattoos sometimes made them feel so limited in their potential they’d considered ending their lives.

And many of them opened up about how their tattoo transformations would have affected their family lives.

One of the video’s subjects confessed that his tattoos often made him want to isolate himself from his kids so they wouldn’t grow up to be like him.

READ: Homeboy Industries Removes Tattoos For Former Gang Members And Released Prisoners

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