A sheriff's chaplain in Texas has found a new calling in the form of a side-job in which he removes the tattoos of ex-offenders to help them in their job hunt after being released from prison.
Wayne Heintze, the chaplain for the Harris County Sheriff's Department in Houston, told the Associated Press in a recent video interview that he and his wife, Francine, opened a small clinic offering tattoo removals after he had met an ex-convict who was concerned about his job opportunities due to his visible tattoos.
The chaplain offers large discounts in tattoo removal to ex-convicts, prostitutes, and robbers in exchange for community service. "It's almost as if you're able to erase a chapter of their life and turn the pages back in that book, and give them the opportunity to take a different road," Heintze said, according to AP.
"I guess the easiest way to describe it is that everything in our life works great, we have wonderful kids, we both have jobs, and for us not to try to help somebody else, that's just wrong," Heintze added, referencing himself and his wife, Francine.
Heintze has been involved in helping prisoners adapt back into society in other ways as well. In May 2012, The Times-Picayune referenced Heintze, the director of chaplaincy services for Harris County Jail, when discussing the jail's ability to drop its inmate count from 12,000 to 8,500 by the end of 2011.
The drop in inmate population in the overcrowded jail was achieved partially through changes in felony laws regarding drug paraphernalia, as well as doubling the amount of chaplains that work in the Houston-area jail. Additionally, inmates were offered the option of early-release if they are nonviolent and actively participate in a vocational or educational program.
Heintze said at the time that although there are still cases of recidivism, inmates are far less likely to return to jail if they join a job or educational path after being released from prison. "What's ground breaking about this is that we're doing it in a jail setting as opposed to a prison," Heintze told The Times-Picayune.
"These are short-time folks. However, the recidivism is there. They do come back. If you look at the raw data, about 80 percent of the folks we have come in, over the course of the next three years, will come back. Now some studies have shown that if you plug them into a program, plug them into a church, plug them into a job, into education -- whatever it takes to plug them back into society -- that number drops you to about 15 percent. There's a huge percent for us to capture there," he added.