Fresh Start: New York's Dr. David Ores is determined to remove the ink that keeps returning people to jail
As the founder of Fresh Start, a not-for-profit organization that helps the previously incarcerated transition back into society, Dr. David Ores, a.k.a Dr. Dave to his patients on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is set on offering free tattoo removal services to thousands of former inmates across the country.
In the beginning…
The origins of Fresh Start date back to 2004, when responding to the demands of his East Village general practice, Ores acquired a laser machine that could remove the seemingly endless unwanted tattoos his patients kept bringing to him. “Most of these people felt their tattoos were negatively affecting their careers,” says Ores, a heavily inked man himself. With time, however, the vast majority of his tattoo removal clientele became “neighborhood people burdened with gang and prison tattoos from their past. Teardrops under the eyes, prison numbers on their neck or hands, that type of thing. I’d have friends of friends coming to me saying, “Look, I’m desperate. I can’t get a job; I’ve been to twenty interviews but nobody will hire me with all this ink on my face.”
Recognizing this particular clientele didn’t always have much by way of resources, a sympathetic Ores started removing their tattoos free of charge. “That’s essentially when the idea of Fresh Start was spawned,” notes Ores, “it only takes me about 5 seconds to do a treatment, and yes, patients might need six or seven sessions, but then their tattoo is totally gone. The end result is a huge difference to their lives while for me it’s an hour or so of my work week.”
“You know, once you’ve been incarcerated there’s already so much against you ever landing a job”, continues Ores, “and having a swastika on your forehead sure doesn’t make it easier. That’s the engine behind the entire Fresh Start project. If removing prison tattoos didn’t make such a difference to the lives of these people I wouldn’t do it.”
Prison is expensive
Regardless of how you personally feel about individuals who run afoul of the law, remember that it costs roughly $60k a year to keep a person in jail. The United States has by far the greatest prison population in the world, with 200,000 people discharged from jails around the country every month. As Ores points out, statistics show that 90 percent of those who leave prison but fail to find steady work afterward will be back in jail within two years, whereas the rate of recidivism is practically zero for those that do find solid employment. For taxpayers or anyone concerned about public safety in general, that’s a pretty strong incentive to support programs that help ex-cons reintegrate into society.
No laser? No worry. Go public.
In 2009, when Ores’ laser broke down and he learned it would cost 30k just to have a technician try to fix it – with no guarantees it would actually even work afterward – he decided to incorporate Fresh Start as a non-profit organization and re-focused his efforts on chasing other professionals, from the countries’ leading cosmetic surgeons “to the guy with a 400 square foot space in the local strip mall with a tattoo removal business,” encouraging them to get involved in the project.
“I didn’t have 30k lying around so I was forced to sell my laser, but that’s what got me thinking other people could provide this service as well. After all, there’s a lot of cosmetic surgeons and laser tattoo removal machines in the United States. The idea was to go around the country and get a couple of doctors in every state to agree to treat one or two people a week for free. Not asking anyone to take on 50 people a day or anything”, confirms Ores, “but one or two sessions a week. That’s not going to kill anybody. Right now we’re in 12 different States and have people in Canada and Germany on board with us as well. We’re still expanding.”
And that’s a good thing because there’s certainly no shortage of demand for the service. Ores says there are currently 1,250 people waiting to be treated. “Each one has filled out the online application, told us their story, sent us pictures, and is now waiting for our help.”
Into the future
Fresh Start’s immediate priority is to find a professional grant application writer and reach out to various philanthropists and foundations. “Right now I don’t even have a laser to work with, so we’re hoping one of these foundations will purchase a machine for us, says Ores, who is confident financial support is forthcoming.
“Philanthropic foundations like things that are quantifiable, with metrics. And Fresh Start has good metrics. It’s very easy to measure how many of the people whose tattoos we remove find employment and how many don’t and end up back in prison. The numbers repeatedly show the work we’re doing makes all the difference, and that makes us an easy non-profit to get behind.”
For more information, go to www.freshstarttattooremoval.org.
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