Face tattoos are becoming more popular

We look at why people get them and the program that's removing them for free

They are some of the most memorable and shocking mug shots.

Wanted suspects who have tattoos on their face.

From skulls to gang symbols, their face has become their canvas, covered in ink.

In our Eyewitness News special report we look at why we're seeing more face tattoos.

And we talk to people who chose to get rid of them.

You see them on television. And on social media. Suspects in crimes who are getting almost as much attention for the tattoos on their faces as the crimes they're accused of.

"They call them eye busters," former gang member Mikey told us. He asked us not to show his face.

"I had tattoos on my neck, my forehead, by my eye," Mikey said.

He's now getting his tattoos removed. We spoke to him right after a laser treatment for this one on the back of his head.
An ice pack eases the pain.  He says it feels like you're being splattered with bacon grease. And hurts more than when he got the tattoos.

"Well, you're thinking at the time, oh I'm bad, I'm gonna be tough. You just want to do it, you just want to support your gang," Mikey said.

When he went to prison he added more. Those on his face sent a message to rival gangs.

"If I see my rivals, right away they see the bulldog on my head or face, right away they're going to know I'm a bulldog. It's called an eye buster, it's busting their eyes, 'cause they don't like to see that stuff because they're from another gang," Mikey said.

He says face tattoos are becoming popular with young gang members who want to appear more intimidating.

"You see someone with a big tattoo on their face, or whatever, and they're just, you're just like, wow, stay away from this guy," Mikey said.

Men aren't the only ones with face tattoos.

"This is when i was in Chowchilla," Frances Montelongo showed us a picture taken inside the women's prison. She spent nearly two decades in prison.

"I was just in and out over 20 years of my life," Frances said.

Drug use and crimes to support her habit put her behind bars. And inside prison walls, she accumulated tattoos all over her body, including her face.

"That was something I never wanted, was a tattoo on my face," Frances said.

But she ended up with one.

"And then i had a girl's name above my eyebrow," Frances said as she showed us a picture of that tattoo.

Frances says she got her tattoos to show committment to other inmates.

Frances and Mikey got their tattoos in prison.

Legitimate, licensed tattoo artists are hesitant to tattoo the face.

"It's going to be there for a while, so make sure you think about it," said Fresno tattoo artist, Sin Savory.

Sin will not tattoo someone's face.

But Daniel Duron says he is asked to do at least one face tattoo a week.

"I don't do anything offensive, I won't do someone's face if they don't have a lot of tattoos," Duron said.

Daniel has a tattoo above his eye. The word: prestige.

"It's a good way to have an example to show people what it feels like or tell people what it feels like, because I have one," Daniel said.

He tries to talk people into getting a tattoo somewhere other than the face. For those who are insistent, he has some advice: "Make sure you have a job, make sure you have other tattoo experience - getting tattooed, make sure it's worth it and you really want it, because you've got it."

Daniel says you need to have a job already because employers may not want to hire you if you have a face tattoo.

Both Mikey and Frances had their face tattoos and other visible tattoos removed for free through the city of Fresno's tattoo removal program.

"That type of treatment is very costly. It can be maybe 250 dollars per treatment per square inch," said Maggie Navarro with the Fresno Police Department.

The department purchased a laser machine and partnered with the Economic Opportunities Commission to offer the free tattoo removal service, because tattoos kept former gang members and inmates from getting jobs. 

"It's served as a barrier to employment or even being considered," Navarro said.

Those who take part in the tattoo removal program must do community service.
And the program only removes tattoos that are visible to employers.

"It would be three fingers above the elbow, and their forearms, hands and neck, face, back of the neck," Navarro said.

The program has completed three to four million dollars worth of tattoo removal in the past eight years. 

Frances says getting rid of her tattoos has changed her life.

"Living in the drug scene... like I'd be putting in gas at the gas station and they'd be out there asking for money. And you know I tell them, that could be me, I could be doing that.  But I'm not because I chose the right path to have my tattoos removed and changed my life," Frances said.

And Mikey hopes his lack of tattoos will show potential employers that he's turned his life around.

"Now they look at me and say, 'oh, this guy's a pretty clean guy. he doesn't have no tattoos. maybe we can help this guy out a little bit.' That's what I'm hoping for here, just a second chance. And I haven't had that second chance yet," Mikey said.

Free tattoo removal is also offered for victims of human trafficking. The program is only open to residents who live in the city of Fresno.

For more information, call 559-621-2353 for the City of Fresno's Violence Intervention and Community Services.

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