Removing hateful tattoos can help erase their baggage, says tattoo shop owner

Memphis Cadeau, co-owner of Grim City Tattoo Club in Hamilton, Ont., works pro bono with a range of clients, from former gang members to victims of human trafficking, who say getting a tattoo removed can be life-changing.
Memphis Cadeau hears a range of harrowing stories from tattoo removal clients at her Hamilton, Ont. shop. (Adam Carter/CBC)

In January 2018, Memphis Cadeau and her team at Grim City Tattoo Club in Hamilton, Ont., started offering clients the chance to have any malicious or hateful tattoos removed for free.

The shop was quickly inundated with requests.

Cadeau says she's run into people with racist slurs or swastikas tattooed on their body.

Some of the stories she's heard are harrowing.

She describes one woman whose ex-boyfriend made her tattoo his name on her body 13 times while he was in prison.

"He wanted to make sure that she would never be able to be loved by anyone else," Cadeau told Tapestry host Mary Hynes. "And this was his way of making sure that no one would ever want her." 

"They're huge tattoos, so removing them is hours upon hours and extremely painful." 

The woman's story sticks with Cadeau and her team.

"You just sit there and you think … 'What on earth could he have had on her to make her compliant to this?'" Cadeau said.

Cadeau said the process of removing tattoos can be therapeutic for clients.

"People typically open up to [the technicians] very quickly," said Cadeau. "They hear horrible truths. They hear true stories of these people's lives. And they just listen."

It can be hard for technicians to hear about their clients' struggles. But Cadeau says, in the end, it's worth it.

"Being able to remove these tattoos then gives them the chance to actually better their life and you know go back to school or get a good job," she said.

Click "listen," above, to hear the interview. This interview first aired September 30, 2018.