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Former skinhead undergoes 25 surgeries to remove racist tattoos

November 1, 2011 | By Abraham | 76 comments

Here is the progression of Bryon Widner’s tattoo removal after an anonymous donor paid $35,000 for him to get the surgeries.

Read his story.

76 Comments

    1. Xine says:

      Now, he can be a politician…as clean as a new born… How would pay 35 000€ for this if there wasn’t an agenda…? Ok I’m cynical…

      1. Susan says:

        I’m sure there was an agenda: that you can ALWAYS give up hate & humanity will welcome you back with open arms.

      2. Tink says:

        Maybe his agenda was not to be confronted with his worst mistake, the worst things he’d thought or done in the past, staring him in the face every day when he looked in the mirror? Regret and shame can be very powerful emotions, though they can also spur us on to become better.

  1. Grey says:

    I have to applaud the community here on 22 Words.

    My wife has been following this story on several sites and so many people are negative or downright disgusting in their commentary about either him being a monster always or because he strayed from the poster’s bigoted views.

    Thanks to you all for being respectable human beings. :D

    Also, kudos to the guy we were actually talking about before I went all emotional. lol

    1. dermot says:

      Just as well that America is a Christian country that believes in forgiveness and the power of redemption and repentance, or imagine how nasty their replies would be.

  2. Raz says:

    @ Peggy, people change don’t you know? We aren’t stuck in time; we grow and develop as individuals (ideally). The tattoos in this case were merely surface detail; the real change happened over time as he grew up and became wiser and kinder until the time came when his old tattoos no longer reflected his personality at which point he needed them gone…

    1. Christine says:

      @Raz, unfortunately there are some people who are stuck in time and cannot develop themselves as individuals. Many of are not capable of the insight and wisdom that comes from living a full and even at times dangerous life, nor are they capable of the determination that this very man has to change his life for what he believes to be the better and see it through to the painful end. :) I have been watching this man for awhile and he has more strength, fortitude, intelligence, insight and wisdom than a good 90% of the people I know and some I am even related to.

      This man is an amazing man!

    2. michelle says:

      if peggy cant understand it…. i dont even have anything funny to say. she is obviously the most boring, emotionally devoid person on the planet.

      1. KristenS says:

        Obviously, Michelle. Because of one comment she made that you disagree with, you are able to accurately diagnose her as LITERALLY the most boring person in the entire world. Not only that, but thanks to that one sentence she wrote, you can also tell absolutely that no one on the entire planet is as “emotionally devoid” as she is. I mean, to think that she would be simply remarking on the amount of pain he had to go through between the two procedures, and how that’s kinda crazy… Nah. It’s more likely that she was born literally without a brain, right?

        Your hyberbolic comments are, frankly, mean, and add quite a bit to the disintegration of respect and manners on the internet. TL;DR: Stop being a jerk to people with whom you disagree.

    3. Tink says:

      Beautiful way of putting it, Raz. I wonder, if we were all confronted with physical manifestations marking out what we were like when we were younger, then it would be easier for more of us to see the changes we have been through.

    1. Alechsa says:

      If that’s a gang thing, then I’ve been in a gang since I was 6.

      It’s a scar. Some people just don’t have part of their eyebrow.

      Those tattoos were a ‘gang thing’. And he got rid of them.

  3. nitrogary says:

    excellent story….i applaud this man for his resolve in getting this accomplished and the people who helped him grow beyond a very bad choice he made in his past

  4. static says:

    That’s brilliant, it just goes to show that anyone can change for the better. He even looks so happy in the last picture compared to the first one.

  5. Gabe says:

    when you go to prison you have to get stuff lke that. otherwise the aryan brotherhood won’t protect you.

    then you might as well be the pie from american pie

  6. Lulu says:

    Like many of you, I have a difficult time believing a person can change their beliefs as dramatically as this man has, because how many of us would? Thes are core beliefs. Or, are they? His persistance in removing the tattoos, suggests that for him, they were brainwashed in and he woke up with a clear head one day and saw the light. Most children around the world are brainwashed by their parents, who in turn are brainwashed by their leaders. You don’t thik so? Then explain why Buddhists don’t grow up Muslim and Muslims don’t grow up Chrstian. Why Danes grow up thinking it’s best to be Danish and Isreali’s grow up thinking it’s best to be Isreali, and Americans grow up thinking it’s best to be American. That is only due to where we’re raised, and by whom. This guy had the great misfortune to be raised by crasy racist people, and to align himself with the same.

    The book, Parallel Journeys http://www.amazon.com/Parallel-Journeys-Eleanor-H-Ayer/dp/0689832362 was written by two people – a Jewish woman and a former high ranking member of the Hitler Youth. – who grew up near each other during WW2. The man, Alfonz Heck, has a fascinating story – which no one would listen to until the Jewish Woman gave him a chance to tell it and invited him to speak with her to schools. I’ve read dozens, perhaps hundreds of survivor’s stories from WW2, but had never heard the story of an Aryan child who grew up under Hitler before, other than Tomi Ungerer’s superlative autobiography ( complete with heaps of his childhood drawings, chronicalling the things he saw), A Childhood Under the Nazi’s. However, Tomi had a very clever mother who managed to keep her kids from being forced to join the Hitler Youth, so although he was subjected to the indoctrination during the school day, he was also well protected from it when he was away from school – his drawings and writings cover his waffles back and forth, and the effect that had on his mind. Alfons Heck also had parents who were against Hitler, but he had other influences that drove him to not only join, but to put heart and soul into it. The book chronicles the woman’s struggles and ultimate survival, and also chronicles the man’s journey, joining Htler Youth, working his way to the very top, and then, towards the end of the war, his change of heart. I recommend everyone who finds this topic interesting, read it. Especially if you can’t understand people like Bryon Widener changing their way of thinking. Alfons Heck has written two other books, including A Child Of Hitler: Germany in the days when God wore a Swastika.

    1. Bunny says:

      Sometimes people believe stupid things when they are young, then they grow up to regret them. Often there are tattoos that they hastily got as youths to showboat their dumb beliefs. Skinheads are largely a clique and many of their numbers fall out as the age and realize that they were just being dumb kids.

    2. Mike says:

      People are capable of enormous inner growth and change. I know as I am one of them and know many people who are like me. I have seen many who are self-centered, filled with fear, ego, and irresponsibility grow into the most selfless, considerate, and respectable members of a community. I won’t go into details, but it is unrelated to race, religion, ideology, etc…

      One can list examples of people with flawed ideas and character who don’t change eternally. So be it, but it does not refute the fact that people ARE capable and DO change for the better EVERYDAY. Life is for the living.

    1. Anu Bhuti says:

      The amazing thing is he reversal of politics from skin activist to joining Southern Poverty Law Center as a speaker on tour telling of he and his girlfriend’s transformation from bigots to people who work with other’s of different race’s to promote brotherhood. The story is in INTELLIGENCE REPORT,WINTER 2011,issue 144,published by the SPLC

  7. Ford W. Maverick says:

    Ok, I believe in second chances and it’s admirable that this guy went through this painful process to try and change, but here’s the thing; I have been living with a very painful, debilitating disability for 10 years now. A condition that a single surgery will fix. Problem is, that surgery cost’s $20,000 and I’m not able to raise that money. Furthermore my Medicare doesn’t want to pay for it either.

    So this guy PAYS MONEY to have symbols of hate carved into his face and later repents and someone gives him money to remove them. That’s wonderful. I, through no fault of my own, have been suffering for TEN YEARS and nobody cares.

    Again, I believe in second chances. I think it’s great that he wants to change, but I don’t need a second chance. I never chose to do this to myself. I never chose to do anything that I would later come to regret. So I don’t get my life back because I was never a reprehensible person? I get to consider living every day in pain because… what? I’m not inspirational because I was never a racist?

    I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

    1. Lulu says:

      Ford W. Maverick, there is so much injustice in medicine these days. I am experiencing it too. However, I don’t agree that the people who donated to the cause of removing racist tattos was poor use of money. It’s become a way to communicate change, and that is a worthwhile pursuit.

      I also don’t agree that you can’t raise funds for your own surgery. You just haven’t found the right way yet. Keep trying. Get creative. Being grateful that all that is standing in your way is money might help give you the enrgy to raise that money. After all, it sure beats not being able to get a diagnosis or hearing there is nothing that can be done.

    2. ALonelyHeart says:

      There is a group called Modest Needs that maybe can help you in some way. There are other groups, but that one comes to mind off hand, so don’t give up.

      If the link doesn’t go through here, it’s DOT ORG:
      https://www.modestneeds.org/index.asp

      I wish you well. Take care.

  8. Ford W. Maverick says:

    Lulu, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I have been told by the Medicaid people that if I ever have more than $2,000 to my name they will take away my medical insurance. If I have no medical insurance then the hospital will refuse to do the surgery because, while I can pay for the surgery, I can’t pay for emergencies that might arise from that surgery.

    I am currently checking into any changes Obamacare may have made to this situation.

  9. Sean says:

    If you were ever racist, at least once, for a couple of years, and then decided to “change” the 1 fact that you were racist at a point still offends me. You are still a racist in my eyes. Just like if you murder someone, you will always be a murderer even if you do your time and feel bad for the crime.

    Reality should not say this man is a great story, no one should applaud this man at all, this man is indeed a monster and will always be a monster because of his terrible decisions. Time does not heal humane stupidity.

    And the only person whom should believe this man is not a monster is the man himself. He should only change for himself, it should only matter to him. He should be okay with the fact that we all think he is a monster, and be humbled in his thoughts in which he believes he is not.

    1. Lulu says:

      Sean,

      Extremists are all the same at the core – no matter what the passion is about, it’s based in irrational fear and hate. Your views are as extreme and absolute and dogmatic as those of any racist . You may think it’s okay, because you have good intentions – but most racists have good intentions too. You’re both misguided.

      I agree with your view that racism is despicable, but your venom and need to control other people’s opinions makes you as hard to isten to as the views of any racist. It’s bad enough that you’re an unforgiving person, and choose to live in hate, but to demand that the resst of us join you, and to presume that “we all” think this man is a monster? That’s disturbing.

      I don’t think he’s a monster. Hes obviously someone who went through a very dark time, and managed to come out the other side. Clearly he did some difficult work to get to this place, and you may be willing to dismiss that, but I’m not. I have a lot of respect for his courage to change. You know what I don’t respect? Someone who demands that people not change their flaws – who labels them once and for all time and doesn’t allow them to make improvements. Just how to you figure that will benefit your cause? As for being humbled – if undergoing multple surgeries in order to right a wrong isn’t a demonstration of humbleness, what on earth would be?

      You’ve announced that no man can have a change of heart, yet in the next breath, you tell the guy he should be humble. Just how do you suggest he pull that off?

      1. kdude63 says:

        You ma’am, are a very wise and respectable person.

        (I’m hoping I’ve accurately guessed your gender, because Lulu isn’t exactly something I can see a guy using as a screen name.)

        1. kdude63 says:

          I know. It’s just wonderful isn’t it?
          I wish more websites would require a login. >.>
          Go troll somewhere else. PLEASE. I’m done with you.
          Any self-respecting idiot should be able to tell who is me and who isn’t, assuming they understand that the original post by “kdude63″ is mine.

      2. Tink says:

        He’s basically suggesting that the man should of course try to not be racist, and try hard to be a better person. But that we should all go judging this man ad infinitem, treating him like evil racist scum no matter what he does in his life to rise above how he first thought. That it’s up to us to be a kind of hell to make people who are less than perfect pay for their sins forever because we are allowed to feel morally superior over them.

        The problem is, this kind of stigmatisation affects plenty of people for various reasons (try being fat, or having a mental illness, or many other things), and it doesn’t help make people better people, it destroys them. Forgiveness is a hard thing to practice, and I’m not saying it’s always possible to look beyond what someone has done. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that if anyone has believed anything we disagree with at any time, that they are forever a monster.

        If someone’s done a crime, I hope they are brought to justice. If you’re religious, pray that God will weigh what each of us have done, and that those who deserve punishment will find it in the next life. But we have no business ourselves to mete out justice as we see fit to those who are different from ourselves. Viewing someone as being less human, less worthy of basic human decency than yourself – isn’t that what racism is about?

        I’m not saying people should forget what someone has done; depending on the crimes it may be very hard for someone to integrate into society. Sadly, I don’t think all even can be integrated, some of the most twisted individuals out there will remain forever so. But if someone honestly is trying to live a better life, what right have we to sabotage it or hate them for trying?

    2. Tink says:

      But thinking a certain way does not define who he is – it is a way of thinking, not an action. Murder, rape, assault, these cannot be undone because they are events, but someone can learn to be a much more tolerant, kind and wise person.

      You’re speaking as if you’ve never changed your outlook at all in life, nor made a mistake. I actually think people like him have a valuable part to play in fighting against racism. Knowing the roots of how it develops, they can use their experiences to reach out to those who grew up in the same lifestyle and way of thinking, and help them move on from the hatred and distrust.

      It’s ironic that you speak in the name of tolerance, but seem pretty intolerant yourself. If you insist on seeing someone who may have campaigned against hatred for 30 years as a bigot because they were brought up in such a background and took time to learn to be tolerant, then you are disregarding how hard it was for them to confront themselves and those around them, to seek out a new path and to actively try to atone for what they have done and to do good for the rest of their life.

      Which must be easy, if you have the smug privilege of being raised in a more affluent environment than them, without racists for parents, or the opportunity to make friends and get into a way of life that wasn’t crime and hatred. But it’s easy for someone who hasn’t been in their shoes to condemn. Much harder to try to understand just what makes some people so hateful, and try to figure out how we can confront their fears to set them free from their hate. I don’t condone what he may have done, or what he may have thought, but I refuse to believe that the answer to racism is more hatred, that it’s OK for us to basically think like them because we’re ‘good’ and they’re not.

      To see someone not as they are, but as the bitterest idea of what they might be, or might have been is the very core of racism, and you may be no less bigoted than them if you think like them. I suppose then you shouldn’t mind if we all think you monstrous because we disagree with your views? I’m afraid I very much disagree with the hypocrisy you espouse in the name of anti-racism.

    3. JFC says:

      No forgiveness. No mercy. No consideration. Just condemnation; rock-solid, cold as ice and unyielding.

      Tell me, are you an American Christian? Because you sound like one.

      1. kdude63 says:

        Rude people get bad reviews on their websites. Just a saying. So please stop using my domain name in your link. Thank you. I know who you are.

  10. Stephanie says:

    I cant imagine how much those lazers must have hurt!!!
    Good for him, changing his lifestyle like that.
    And to all you people who say, “how can we be sure hes a good erson now”? Look at the dedication he made in improving his self image to obviously change from the person he was??
    If any of you put half as much effort into your thought process, as he did into becoming a different, better person, we would have a MUCH less intolerant world……

  11. Tink says:

    I’m really sorry to hear about what you’re going through. It’s clearly not your fault that you’re suffering as you are. But nor is this status quo his fault – he wanted to change, got his cause out there in the media and managed to raise money (as a lot of other people do by raising awareness and setting up charities for treatment). I’m not saying you have to campaign on your own behalf to raise money, because there’s no guarantees when people do something like that – some get money, some don’t, which is sad.

    But clearly your medical system as it stands is at fault. This man just happened to attract a rich donor; clearly that’s not the way a decent healthcare system should work. Bottom line is, if you are in a debilitating condition, your healthcare system should be able to make it better, and it’s inexcuseable that so many people can’t afford or are bankrupted by treatment in the richest country in the world.

    That the US system is so broken is one of the biggest problems facing your country. In many countries a lot less wealthy than the US (The UK for one), patients who are as seriously affected as you are aren’t left without treatment because they can’t afford it. Which is precisely why I couldn’t understand the fear some people had against the idea of socialised healthcare in the US.

    1. Tink says:

      This comment was actually to Ford W. Maverick but got posted downthread for some reason. Either way, I hope your condition has improved and wish you well..

    1. Dan says:

      They are all racist tattoos. There is a documentary called ” erasing hate” that documents the entire process. Also the donor was not anonymous as the title states. He was actually a lawyer who specializes in prosecuting hate groups.

  12. Whiteknight777 says:

    Tattoos were originally done to ward off demons. Those that did it thought the tattoo would keep their demons away. Today people do it due to emotional pain. Others do it as they are followers rather than leaders. And then others do it in order to identify with a group or cause.

    People fail to realize that it is what is inside a person that is important, and not what they are normally are on the outside.

  13. Karen says:

    Oh the things we do when we are young and stupid. Shows you how much life changes a person. Congrats to the guy because that laser surgery is really painful. Every session probably gave him ample time to think about it and realize he was a changed man. Pain Transforms.

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