A cousin introduced him to racism and Tuesday the 18-year-old former skinhead asked a tattoo artist to sever the tie.
He was one of two people to have hate and gang tattoos covered - free of charge - at Lake City TattooLand on Fourth Avenue.
“It just happened,” the former Aryan Nations member said of his introduction to racism four years ago. He asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution.
Owner Clint Riley is offering the cover-up service every Tuesday for the rest of the year. Clients with tattoos that cannot be covered up are referred to Spokane’s Tattoo-Off program, organized by a dermatologist who uses laser treatment to remove them.
“If we can give a few people a head start, we’ll do it,” Riley said. “And if they’re serious about trying to change their life that matters, too.”
Riley said he started the program as a way to give back to a community that has helped his business prosper.
He has another reason as well. He’s been where Tuesday’s customers are trying to escape.
“People pass judgment fast,” Riley said. “I’ve gone to churches where people immediately back off. They won’t even talk to you.”
Similar spiteful treatment has plagued the teenager sitting in Riley’s tattoo chair.
He tells questioners the swastika on his back and Aryan Nations insignia on his left forearm are part of “something I did a long time ago when I was stupid.”
While Riley covered the swastika Tuesday with a large sun, the teen talked about being enticed into a racist lifestyle.
As a 14-year-old boy, he began hanging out along Sherman Avenue with a group of skinheads. They spent their nights drinking, taking drugs and fighting.
He ran up $1,700 in fines and was arrested six times. Seven of his fines were for underage smoking. Two were for jaywalking.
“The police would nail me every time I walked around,” he said.
Eventually, a fellow skinhead tattooed the swastika onto his back during a drunken evening. He later got the other tattoo from a professional artist, who also is a racist.
“You never really think about it until the next morning when you look at it,” he said.
In his case, it took about three years.
He lived at the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake for seven months before being asked to leave when a friend was caught with drugs.
While watching his friends also go to jail, he began rethinking his lifestyle.
“They weren’t really my friends,” he said.
With 14 days left before his probation ends, the teen proudly lists as his new priorities a job, new friends and a steady girlfriend.
“She likes me for who I am, not who I was.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos