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Tattoo removal programe helps ex-drug offenders reintegrate into society

The initiative helps former drug offenders who no longer want to be associated with gangs, and those who have already benefited from it say they feel more confident without their ink. 

SINGAPORE: A charity walk this Saturday (Aug 23) aims to raise S$50,000 for a tattoo removal programme for former drug offenders. The event, to be held at Gardens by the Bay, is a joint effort by the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) and National Skin Centre.

Money raised will help 80 beneficiaries over the next two years. 18 former drug offenders have already benefited from the initiative that started in August last year. One of them is 31-year-old Mohd Iswandy Aziz, who said peer pressure and the need to feel accepted by his friends were the reasons he got a tattoo. For his family's sake, he has removed his tattoo.

Mr Iswandy, a Logistics Assistant, said his daughters were what motivated him to remove his tattoo: "When I think of them, I feel like I want to remove this tattoo before they can ask me the questions like 'daddy, what's on your hand?'"

It could take up to 10 sessions to remove a tattoo, depending on size and colour. Mr Iswandy paid $12 for a session, 10 per cent of the total cost. He said removing tattoos is more painful than the inking process. "You can feel this kind of burning sensation. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain is 9 to 9.5. It's very, very painful." said Mr Iswandy.

Despite the pain, Mr Iswandy now feels more confident. "I feel like I am new. In the past, when I was waiting at the lift, people like avoid me. But anow, it's okay lah. My employer asked me to cover my tattoos. So as for now, as the tattoo has faded away, I can move anywhere freely."

SANA said many struggle to find jobs and gain acceptance by the community because of their visible tattoos.

Mr Abdul Karim, CEO of SANA, said: "We started this programme last year because our clients approached us and said they wanted to remove their tattoos. Because they feel that they don't want to be identified with gangs, which shows that they want to change - they are remorseful and want to be successfully reintegrated into society."

The subsidised programme accepts those who have tattoos on exposed areas like the face and arms.