It could be just a single teardrop right beneath the eye or three small dots between the thumb and forefinger. It could be a name in bold gothic letters, a religious symbol, or a number (in Roman or Aztec numerals). Over the years, tattoos have become a pervasive symbol of gang membership. Even those who want out of gangs are judged by their tattoos—an indelible mark of Cain, reminding them of a past that they would rather forget.

Until now, that is. San Jose has launched a new program, Clean Slate, to help young people ages 14 to 25 remove their tattoos when they leave a gang. It’s a chance to get a fresh start, without being haunted by the mistakes of their past. The program offers to remove tattoos from all exposed areas (face, neck, and hands) on people who leave their gangs, provided that they attend a weekly life skills workshop and perform community service.

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