9 former gang members see photos of themselves without tattoos for the first time.

Before you judge them, hear their stories.

When Francisco saw an image of himself without tattoos, he couldn't help but smile.

"Damn," he said. "I haven't seen myself like that in years."

Francisco is a former gang member. His arms, face, and hands are covered in tattoos and gang symbols, permanent reminders of his former life.


But thanks to the photography and photo editing skills of Steven Burton, Francisco had the opportunity to see himself a changed man, the way he felt on the inside.

Francisco Flores. All photos and edited images by Steven Burton. Used with permission.

Francisco is just one of the men and women who took part in the innovative "Skin Deep" project.

Burton captured portraits of 28 former gang members and incarcerated men and women, and then he spent more than 400 hours in Photoshop digitally removing their tattoos.

Phillip Mendoza.

Burton was inspired by the work of Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, who many know as G-Dog.

Boyle, an ordained Catholic priest, is the founder and director of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program. In addition to classes, employment counseling, substance abuse support, legal services, and mental health care, Homeboy Industries pays for laser tattoo removal treatment for 950 clients each month.

These tattoos are not only visible reminders of gang and prison life, but they can make it difficult for these men and women to find employment. To many, the tattoos — and the people underneath — are intimidating and scary. Legal or not, some companies and schools just aren't willing to take the risk.

David Williams.

But tattoo removal is a long and sometimes painful process. So Burton decided to create a digital solution.

After watching "G-Dog," a 2012 documentary on Boyle, Burton was inspired to use his photography and editing skills to show before and "after" photos to see how the men and women would react, but also to understand the impact tattoos have on people escaping gang life.

August Lopez.

Burton went straight to the source and talked to folks using the services at Homeboy Industries. Many were hesitant to take part in his project, as photographers hoping to shoot heavily tattooed former gang members are a dime a dozen. Burton had to build trust and prove he was there for the right reasons — not just as a photographer, but as someone willing to listen.

Samuel Gonzalez.

"I didn't go in with any preconceived ideas of what I was after," Burton said." I just wanted it to be honest and open, where they get to talk about their lives."

After he worked on the first four images and showed the participants, word quickly spread. For these people hoping to turn their lives around, Burton offered a priceless gift: a glimpse — even just on paper — of life without the gang.

Erin Echavarria.

Burton didn't just photograph the homeboys and homegirls. He listened to their stories too.

Each interview revealed personal and shocking details about life before and after the gang. Many suffered abuse or addiction prior to and during their years in gangs. They've witnessed unthinkable violence and are doing their best to start over, for themselves and their families.

"The cards they were dealt in the beginning really set the course for their life in the gang. It's never really been so much of a choice for a lot of these people," Burton said. "But what's beautiful about the people I talk to is that they've made the choice to leave the gang, and it's a difficult one."

Marcos Luna.

While deciding to leave is admirable, the transition isn't easy. Since "Skin Deep" began, at least two of Burton's subjects have been killed by police. Burton believes many are profiled because of their tattoos. Before you judge them, hear their stories.

"People can change their life," he said. "But because of the tattoos, who would know?"

That's why these images and stories are so important: Burton hopes to change the narrative around people in gangs and their tattoos.

Burton compiled his photos as well as interviews and stories from the men and women to create "Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos," which was published in October 2017 thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Now that he's making a profit, he's giving a portion of it back to the organization that made it possible — Homeboy Industries — and using the rest to continue helping others see themselves in a new light through digital means and real tattoo removal treatments.

Mario Lundes.

If you'd like to support these men and women as they chart a new course, start with kindness.

These men and women don't need your pity. They need a fair shot — with or without tattoos.

Support schools, businesses, and nonprofits working to give them a chance. And before you judge them, give them a chance yourself.  

Vinson Ramos.

More

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended
via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

While sitting in mass at the University of Notre Dame, White was aghast by the spandex attire the young women in front of her were sporting.

Keep Reading Show less
More

Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

Twitter user "feminist next door" posed an inquiry to her followers, asking "good guys" to share times they saw misogyny or predatory behavior and did something about it. "What did you say," she asked. "What are your suggestions for the other other men in this situation?" She added a perfectly fitting hashtag: #NotCoolMan.

Not only did the good guys show up for the thread, but their stories show how men can interrupt situations when they see women being mistreated and help put a stop to it.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture