About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains.
Walk into Chris Baker's tattoo shop, and you’re greeted by a huge biker-looking dude covered in 140 hours’ worth of ink.
Baker’s shop, the first tattoo studio in Oswego, is the cleanest tattoo place you will ever see. A guitar signed by former Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch hangs on the wall, a reminder of a turning point in Baker's life.
"His book Save Me From Myself turned my life around," says Chris Baker, a 42-year-old tattoo artist, youth pastor and father of three.
Baker now helps save others by removing gangland and sex-trafficking tattoos. In the last year, he has removed or inked over 508 unwanted tattoos, half of them on girls and young women escaping the sex trade in Chicago and the suburbs. He does the work through his non-profit, INK 180 Ministry, funded largely out of his own pocket, often at the invitation of police and FBI agents.
"Some of the Chicago politicians keep this quiet because they don’t want the tourism to go down," he says, showing photos of UPC code-like tattoos on the necks of young women. "Pimps make the girls get them so they can be identified. If a girl escapes and goes to another city, if another pimp finds her number, she can be killed. It’s all underground.
"I began covering human-trafficking tattoos about nine months ago … to help the victims of this heinous crime."
Baker gets quiet as he shows photos of the code tattoos.
"Most of these girls are between the ages of 11 and 17."
Q. What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?
A. The biggest challenge I face is funding. I hate doing fundraisers and asking for donations. We’re a 501c3 non-profit organization. I’m much more focused on covering the negative tattoos and helping people get started in their new lives.
Q. What inspired you to take on this challenge?
A. I was trying to teach my youth group kids about serving God. I told them to pray about how they could use their gifts from God to help others. I started doing that as well. The answer I got back was: Do what you love to do more than anything else, and will you do it for free? I started doing free tattoo cover-ups and INK 180 was born.
Q. Have you succeeded?
A. God has succeeded. He changed me and has asked me to help others do the same. Every day is a new adventure, and I love every second of it. I am happier than I’ve ever been, and I’m a renewed person. It has also improved my family life. I work hard every day to be the best person I can be, and try to live my life according to God’s plan.
Read about Chris Baker's life in an original story on Oswego Patch. Learn more about INK 180 on its website. If you know of a former gang member wanting to remove a tattoo (teardrops are called "jobstopper tattoos") or a woman who wants to rid herself of a sex trafficking tattoo, contact Chris Baker directly via email. There will be no charge for this service.
This post is published throughout the Chicago-area Patch network.