Skinhead Endures 25 Surgeries To Remove Hate Tattoos So He Could Get A Job

"You can leave your past behind, but you can't run from your own flesh."

These are the words of Bryon Widner, a reformed white supremacist who endured 25 horrendously painful operations over 16 months to remove the race-hate tattoos that covered his head and hands.

Widner joined the white supremacist movement when he was 14 to impress a skinhead family member. Over the years, he became increasingly notorious in the movement, well-known for his quick-to-fight nature, and the tattoos that multiplied over his body and face: HATE on his knuckles, "Blood & Honour" on his neck, "Thug Reich" on his belly, swastikas on his scalp, and a warrior rune on his forehead symbolizing his willingness to die for his race.

The man who had dedicated 16 years to hate fell in love in 2006. He left the movement, got married, had a baby, and renounced the racist ideologies of his past. He wanted to be family man, to support his wife, her children, and his new son. But the hate and violence branded all over his body made it nearly impossible to find a job.

He found some part-time work shoveling snow and a few odd repair jobs, but could hardly earn enough to make ends meet month-to-month, let alone save up the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to remove the tattoos from the visible parts of his body.

He considered burning his skin off with acid.

His wife, Julia, also a former white supremacist, was desperate. She contacted Daryle Lamont Jenkins, the black founder of One People's Project, which monitors alleged racist and far right groups, posting members' names and addresses on his website.

Jenkins put him in touch with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has successfully shut down white power groups and won large payouts for victims. When Widner called, the SPLC's chief investigator Joseph Roy told The Associated Press that "it was like the Osama Bin Laden of the movement calling in."

Widner joined the Outlaw Hammerskins in 2002, a network of regional skinhead gangs that dominated the American white supremacist movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As the Hammerskins' power waned, Widner co-founded the Hoosier State Skinheads and the Vinlander Social Club, groups that resembled a disorganized, ultra-violent criminal subculture rather than a revolutionary political movement, according to David Holthouse, a former investigative reporter for the SPLC.

Widner spent four years in jail on murder charges, but was never convicted.

"No one was more aggressive, more confrontational, more notorious," Roy told the AP.

"I got convinced that the Jews were at fault for all my woes. The black man has been keeping me down, this and that. When all in all it was because I was a screw-up," Widner told the AP. "I didn't hate anybody, I hated myself."

Roy flew out to meet the couple, and was greeted by Widner, with his ink-stained face clashing with a "World's Greatest Dad" sweatshirt. Roy became convinced of the couple's sincerity. Widner shared intelligence about the inside structures and rules of various skinhead gangs. Roy began searching for a donor to sponsor Widner's physical redemption.

In the meantime, white supremacist groups began harassing Widner's family, calling at 3 a.m. with death threats, dumping pig manure on their cars, and forcing the family on some nights to flee in fear to a hotel.

After a warning by the F.B.I., Widner and his family moved from Michigan to Tennessee. With the help of his father-in-law and a pastor, he was able to find some work.

Roy called. He had found a donor -- a woman so moved by his story that she was willing to pay the $35,000 for the removal, as long as Widner agreed to get counseling and go to college.

Dr. Bruce Shack, chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, performed the operations. "This wasn't just a few tattoos," Shack told the Boston Globe, recalling the first time he met Widner. "This was an entire canvas."

The change of heart proved easier than the change in skin. The pain was horrific. The doctor told Widner it would be like the worst sunburn of his life. The skin swelled and blistered. "I told myself it was a penance," Widner told the AP. "I deserved it."

MSNBC filmed the operations and recovery. At a screening of the documentary, "Erasing Hate," in California, a black woman came up to Widner afterward, hugged him, and said "I forgive you."

The couple had to move soon after the film's screening; he was considered a race traitor, after all, to several large and heavily armed gangs. His wife pawned her wedding ring to buy groceries. But then Widner found some decent work in construction, and as a tattoo artist.

He got his GED, and both he and his wife plan to start classes soon at the local community college.

Widner hopes his story will discourage a kid or two from entering the world of white supremacy. As his surgeon put it: "Anyone who is prepared to put himself through this is bound to do something good with his life."

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The doctor who removed those tattoos did a great job.

October 12 2012 at 11:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Skinheads are not racists. Skinheads were an English subculture of mostly working class white and black youths in the UK that was started in the late 50's to early 60's to imitate the regaee artists of the era. Most skinheads are actually against racism and fight prejudice of any kind. There is a huge difference between a white supremist and skinhead. If you don't believe me please look it up and read for yourselves.

November 29 2011 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's kind of interesting that the article lumps together racists with "far right" groups. One could easily say "Website (randomwebsitedotcom) posts the names of child molesters and patrons of CVS Pharmacy..." The end result is that you associate one mundane group with another extremely hated group to incite hatred against the mundane. I truly hope that AOL is above subliminal politics and that this was merely an accident on their part.

November 28 2011 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He gets married, has a son, AND THEN he figures he should finally get a job in his 30s? What an enormous LOSER. Why do we let people like this breed?

November 28 2011 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Force Meow

Those are tattoos? Looks like he fell asleep and his buddies drew on his face with magic marker.

Step one in getting a face tattoo; find a good artist.

Step zero in getting a face tattoo; don't.

November 28 2011 at 2:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Al Meard, what kind of name is that? We know your not a skinhead. For one, skinhead's are too dumb to use a computer and by looking at your grammar it's surprising your using one too. You sound like a bored 6th grader that should be doing homework. Your mom's calling you for dinner.

November 27 2011 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Common Sense

I love this story. Not only does it show that people really can change and discourages hatred, but it also discourages getting tattoos, especially the obvious ones that you can't cover up. It doesn't look professional, so people who have these tattoos would not get hired for jobs where they have to deal with people, which are most of them. Also, you are supposed to be at your meekest during a job interview. How meek can a person be with a scary looking marks all over his body? Lil Wayne would never be able to get a normal job. People, think before you ink.

November 24 2011 at 3:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason Ross

Human being can do change. Good luck!

November 23 2011 at 10:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Once a skinhead always a skinhead ...why is this on the news anyway like he achieved something great he is just a hate filled Scumbag

November 23 2011 at 7:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rao's comment

did you even watch the video? You have as much hate in you for shame...

November 25 2011 at 10:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Al Meard

I am a skinhead my self and I will not remove any of my Tattos I am going to add more instead we are living in 2011 soon 2012
I dont have tattoos in my face just in case but in the future who knows I might ,
I will see how things are first
People more and more are getting tattoos on including professionals soon even doctors will have tattoos and lawyers . this guy ' s tattoos look ridiculous . Good luck on how your face gonna look like after you remove that arrow

November 23 2011 at 2:41 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Al Meard's comment

didn't watch the video did ya dippy...

November 25 2011 at 10:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Dude, go to school. No one cares what you have to say if you can't say it in a way it can be understood. You appear to be mostly illiterate.

November 26 2011 at 10:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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