A Northern Kentucky Nonprofit Transforms Lives by Removing Tattoos

COVINGTON, Ky. – For many former inmates, getting a fresh start after serving time can take a toll on their bank account.

This is especially true for those inmates with tattoos hard to cover up to get a job.

“I was convicted of aggravated robbery when I was 18 and I came home when I was 24 and decided that tattoos on the hands and face was not a good decision to make,” said Tory Luken, as he was shaving his hand.

Three years ago Tory’s face was filled with tattoos on his forehead cheeks and eye lids. 

“The tattoos on my eyelids are for when I die. It says Love Life. So I’ll be in the casket fully dressed but you’ll be able to read my eyelids,” Luken said.

Luken love his tattoos. He says he has at least 400 on his body.

“Ran out of room is why I started getting them on my face,” Luken said. 

At the age of 14, Luken started getting inked and by 17 he started filling his face. 

But a decision from his past haunted him after getting out of prison. Luken says it was tough to get a job with the tattoos on his face and hands.

“Looked into it and they wanted $30,000 dollars to do my hands and my face,” Luken said. 

A price tag, Luken said way out of his reach, until he met Jo Martin. 

“I kept seeing all these tattoos on these young people like 18 early 20s just really offensive stuff,” Martin said.

She was teaching GED classes at the Kenton County Jail, and came to the decision.

“And I thought how in the world are those kids going to get jobs? I didn’t exactly pray about it but I said you know maybe out loud wonder how I could help. Is there something I could do to help?,” Martin said. 

In 2017, Jo Martin founded Tattoo Removal Ink in Northern Kentucky. It’s a non-profit providing free removal of jail, gang and human-trafficking tattoos from the formerly-incarcerated, former gang members, and victims of human trafficking. 

Her mission is simple: decisions of the past don’t have to dictate your future and giving people a second chance while tracking the progress of each client through images.

“When it gradually goes away, it’s like losing weight. You don’t notice it at first. it just gradually goes away because it’s 56 days each cycle. so it’s a slow process,” Martin said. 

Martin bought a laser by dipping into her retirement savings left behind by her late husband. She relied on donations for other equipment and friends and family pitched in with their services.

Through Martin’s nonprofit many lives have transformed including Tory’s, who now is an employment specialist.

“Nobody would hire me before and now it’s my job to give people jobs” Luken said. 

Before starting the non-profit, Martin worked at a corporation for 30 years. She continues to teach classes at the county jail.