At Stillwater prison, tattoo program seeks to improve health, career outcomes for inmates

At Stillwater prison, tattoo program seeks to improve health, career outcomes for inmates

At Stillwater prison, tattoo program seeks to improve health, career outcomes for inmates

The Minnesota Department of Corrections is launching a tattoo parlor in a prison to reduce the spread of bloodborne diseases and set prisoners up for success when they get out.

It’s one of very few such programs that exist nationwide.

After about two years of preparation to create the program, DOC officials explained the tattoo program could move the needle.

From the art down to the tools, it looks like your typical tattoo parlor.

“This is like a little island in the middle of nowhere,” said Courtney Ocegueda, a participant in the tattoo program at the Stillwater prison. “Especially to come down and essentially leave prison for five to seven hours.”

In the basement of the Stillwater Correctional Facility, incarcerated people are training to become tattoo artists.

“There are people with talent who, for one reason or another, made a mistake or caught up in a situation that they shouldn’t have been in,” Ocegueda said.

The tattoo artists in training always had a passion for art. Now, those caged ideas have some breathing room.

“It showed me that there are options and good things do come if you wait even in the darkest of places,” said Daniel Gonzales, another tattoo program participant.

DOC officials explained teaching incarcerated people how to tattoo is just one piece of the bigger picture.

“It was driven by the cost of hepatitis C treatment and desire to reduce transmission of hepatitis C in prisons,” DOC Program Director Marina Fuhrman said.

The DOC explained “do-it-yourself” tattoos and needle-sharing run rampant in prisons, which could lead to the spread of bloodborne diseases.

The state sees about 100 cases of hepatitis C in prisons per year.

State officials said this program is cheaper than treatment costs, which can reach up to $75,000, depending on treatment.

“They’re trying to make changes and be better people, and I see that in art is very transformative and I think that it’s exactly what they needed,” Justin Jimenez, tattoo program instructor, said. “I applied for this job because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

People in prison have to apply for the tattoo program. The requirements involve an art background and good behavior in prison. After months of practice, they get their temporary license.

The apprentices are now etching art on each other while also reducing the spread of unsafe tattooing.

“Sometimes it doesn’t feel a little bit believable to be sitting in here doing this,” Gonzales said.

This ink could write the start of a new story at the end of their prison sentence.

“It also gives me hope for being in prison. I know I have a purpose, even in here. So it’s life-saving,” Gonzales said.

DOC officials explained the goal is to adopt this program in correctional facilities across the state.