It was hard to miss Jesus Bujanda in the parking lot next to the Healing Way Ministry in Greeley last month. His transportation that day was an old retrofitted ambulance with red flames painted across the front. That was also the setup for his business, TattooEmergency911, which he runs with his wife, Gayedine.
Bujanda specializes in getting rid of tattoos with a laser. Inside his mobile shop, there’s red and white decor. The laser is stashed in a corner near the rear. Next to it is a chair that looks like something you’d see at a barber shop. Often sitting in that seat is an at-risk youth or a former inmate having gang tattoos removed.
“They call 'em job stoppers," says Bujanda of the gang-related tattoos. "As soon as employers see something on your hand, on your neck, on your face, they just get leery right away. And they have so many applications to choose from that that’s an easy way to get looked over.”
Some of this work has been paid for by the state. Colorado has contracted TattooEmergency911 to provide tattoo removal services for at-risk youth transitioning to or on parole from the Division of Youth Corrections.
Elizabeth Owens, a spokeswoman with the Department of Human Services, says tattoo removal is used "when a youth's successful transition back to the community may be significantly impeded with large visible gang-related tattoos.”
Bujanda worries that if these individuals struggle to find a job they might "make the wrong decisions to be able to survive and end up back in.”
That gets to the inspiration for Bujanda's business. He has a nephew,who was imprisoned and had large neck tattoos. After his release, Bujanda's nephew used vouchers he received from the state to have the tattoos removed, and getting rid of the tattoos seemed to help his nephew in his job search. Bujanda thought if this worked for his nephew it could make a big difference for people getting out of juvenile detention or prison.
His clientele is not always at-risk youth or former inmates. The day he was set up outside the Greeley church, he offered his services to the public. One individual showed up to have tattooed initials of an ex removed.
Bujanda says it's a painful procedure.
“Have you ever splashed bacon grease on yourself? Add electricity to that," says Bujanda. "It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but it goes really fast.”
And it takes time. Clients get one treatment a month. Bujanda says it can take six months to a year to remove a tattoo, depending on that tattoo's size and location, as well as the health of the client.
Bujanda hopes to grow TattooEmergency911. He'd like to work with prisons in Colorado and he's looking into expanding into California. For now though, he hangs onto his day job: teaching auto shop at Jefferson High School in Edgewater. He's been a teacher with Jefferson County for about two decades.
Bujanda spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.