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Tattoo Artist Helps Girls Escape Life in the Sex Trade

A Chicago-area tattoo artist and youth pastor helps people find new lives by inking over their tattoos. Sponsored by Grape-Nuts.

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.

Chris Baker May 04, 2013 at 05:25 PM
Southern Tattooed Girl, that red x was actually for the End It Movement to raise awareness for Human Trafficking. I do however live a very straightedge life by not smoking, drinking or using drugs. Who is it that you know? Is it CM Punk? Chris
Samantha Gray May 04, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Chris, I'm a nurse and ordained minister as well, and when I was in the ER in NY City we used to see kids like this brought in half dead. God bless you and yours for this generous and loving work that you do. Samantha
SouthernTattooedGirl May 04, 2013 at 05:47 PM
It is. I met him when he was doing the Indy Circuit in Nashville. I have to modify the Straightedge lifestlye for me. I don't drink or smoke but I'm on Medications for smoke inhalation and and to keep My Pulmonary Fibrosis at bay. I think this a great thing your doing.
tommy whirple May 04, 2013 at 07:03 PM
God didn't give me no tattoo.
Blaie May 04, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Chris: I love that your life and your ministry reflect a God that doesn't say change in order to serve me but asks you- What do you love doing? Your work is a tangible fulfillment of Luke 4 as you labor to set the captives free.
Buffyclaire May 04, 2013 at 09:19 PM
"Q: Have you succeeded? A: God has succeeded." Very cool. I hope this article brings enough attention to your work so you don't have to worry about funding ever again.
John S. Stacy May 04, 2013 at 10:02 PM
What he is doing is very nice. But the idea that somehow removing these tatoos is saving lives? Give me a break. This is not what allows someone to get out of a gang or away from prostitution. How difficult it is to get out does not depend on a tatoo.
Chris Baker May 04, 2013 at 10:14 PM
John, you're certainly entitled to your opinion and I don't claim to be some savior. What we do helps them leave the constant visual reminders of their past, in the past. However, on the trafficking side of what we do, those victims are identified by those tattoos and they can have serious repercussions if they run and are identified and traced back to their pimps. Often times, a trafficking victim will run from their pimp, go to another city and if they are seen by another pimp in the new city, they will reference the tattoo, contact the other pimp and ask them what to do with the victim. Quite often the order is to "make them disappear". Again, I don't pretend to be any kind of savior at all and in fact I give ALL of the credit for what I'm able to do to God who put this in my heart to do. I didn't think of INK 180, He did. I'm blessed enough to be a tattoo artist and this is my way of helping someone move on from a life of hell on earth to something MUCH more positive. Thanks and God Bless, Chris
Lawton Hoover May 04, 2013 at 10:51 PM
This man is an Angel that has the courage and heart to do good where bad has been inflicted. I would love to work with a individual with this kind of character. Chris, if you are willing to train me in helping in your ministry it would be an honor. I was a youth pastor and former LEO that would be honored to be part of a ministry like these, I have been an ordained minister for approximately 7 years in Florida. God Bless
Marybeth Woodward May 04, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Chris, I am so blessed to see what you are doing to HELP these girls and women who are victims of the sex trade/slavery. If one understands the meaning of the word "slavery," then he/she would understand how very difficult it is for these modern-day slaves to get away from their pimps/"owners." I thank God for the work that you are GIVING to them in order to make it at least somewhat easier to escape that horrible situation they have found themselves in. May God RICHLY bless you as you continue to serve Him by serving others!
Theresa Rose May 04, 2013 at 11:30 PM
We are all mirrors. What you see in others is what you see in yourself.
Theresa Rose May 04, 2013 at 11:34 PM
We are all mirrows. What you see in others is what you see in yourself.
Theresa Rose May 04, 2013 at 11:36 PM
That's mirrors.
Theresa Rose May 04, 2013 at 11:52 PM
If you had read the whole article, you would know that removing the tattoos on a prostitute gives her the freedom to leave the business and not be murdered. Removing the pimp tattoo saves her life.
Russell Wandrei II May 05, 2013 at 12:41 AM
Awesome article, it's great that you help out those poor people that got taken advantage of like that, they definitely don't need that reminder on them forever and definitely don't need a way to be kept track of and branded like cattle. I also know how it is to have a tattoo you aren't proud of, I have a satanic pentagram on my arm that I would love to get rid of, I was 17 and was going through a weird time in my life and thought it was "cool" now I'm 36 and for years now have regretted the thing because it stands for nothing I believe in and does not represent me at all. Wish I had thought it through better but I was young and thought I knew everything lol. Keep up the good work, the world needs people that are willing to use their skills to help others.
Megan K. May 05, 2013 at 01:35 AM
That's awesome Chris! I have my share of tattoos (6) and regret about 4 of them lol! I have decided to not add anymore new tat's but would like to cover up a few. I am 27 now, and had almost all of my tattoos by 21. If only we believed our elders when they told us we DON'T know it all that young...lol Oh-well, live & learn. However, this story is very touching, and it's nice to hear a positive connection with tattoo's since they often get negative attention. I think it's wonderful that you all are helping these people. Just goes to show you how amazing our God really is! He places purpose in everything we seek Him in! Keep up the good work! =)
Beth May 05, 2013 at 01:52 AM
I wish that for every concert, rock and roll, country, or hip-hop, they would give one dollar to organizations like yours to HELP young girls to escape the sex trade, it would solve any fund raising that you would need to do! God bless you, man!
Big Brown May 05, 2013 at 03:36 AM
from Big Brown I don't have any tatoos (my wife of 25+ years has four). But, i do know what it is to be persecuted for decades (if only within my own mind) for some stupid thing i did when i was younger. I am not against tatoos at all, but I am wholheartedly in favor of anyone that can free any other individual from a constant reminder of some past mistake. Jesus has embraved you as a brother, servant and friend, what a beautiful thing.
Kathleen May 05, 2013 at 04:40 AM
Chris, Great website. Great work. May I make a suggestion? No one should ever have to ask you where they can make a donation. That paypal link should be on every page and above the fold. You are hiding your non-profit status at the bottom of a page that says "The Ink 180 Story" and TWO page levels down to a page called "Funding". What you are doing is a good thing, and people want to help. Don’t make them work for it. Don’t be afraid to truly PROMOTE that you rely on donations and they are tax deductible. Take the “Funding” page tab, rename it “Contribute” and put it on the main nav bar, right between ‘Home” and “Services”. It needs to be SEEN. Change the “Affiliates” page to say “Partners”, because affiliates get paid. Get rid of the “Get Involved” and place the “Partners” page there instead, no drop down. - And that unassuming, grey on grey, slogan "Transforming gang . . . ." at the top of the site. It needs to be SMACK under your website name and prominent. It explains your mission in a single sentence and people who want to pay for new tattoos can figure out from the SAME one sentence that you must be experienced and do quality work. Boom. Right now, that’s all I can afford to contribute. My opinion :o) Blessings. Keep up the good work.
Serenity Kelley May 05, 2013 at 06:17 AM
Hello Chris. I'm from a family who is big on tattoos. I was the first out of my brother and I to get one. It's what our real last name is :KELLEY on my chest with a heart and banner and some embellishments and it's over my heart. I love it dearly and it means a lot to me. I have, however, been exposed to the world of 1% (MC clubs) and similar organisations and have seen some members (and wives/women) who want to remove tattoos that they no longer wish to have. People like you are wonderful for what you do. I respect you for your mission, however I am Wiccan and so are a lot of my associates (either Wiccan/Pagan or something similar or Agnostic) and we feel that maybe your environment would be too stifling for us to exist in. We love what you do and a few wish to support you in your endeavor, however, we also love who we are and would not like to sit through sermons for the sake of a cover up/removal. I fear I know a few people who could severely use your services or the like, but they refuse to go for those reasons...
AG May 05, 2013 at 08:42 AM
I am blown away! I have never heard of prostitutes being labeled like stock in a store! That is disgusting to say the least. Chris keep up your wonderful work helping those who realize they have made some terrible choices in their lives, or have been made to be branded like cattle. You will help those who cannot help themselves to get rid of their past and start a fresh new life. God bless you!
john May 05, 2013 at 09:42 AM
why is it that anonymous always equals negative or ignorant or both ?
Katiecakes Hayes May 05, 2013 at 10:52 AM
What a beautiful human being! I am all inked up and had been " in the streets" at a very young age.. I am 33 now married with Twins and just totally fell in love with this story Chris Baker, You are truly making a difference in such a dark place. And just by a little self confidence in a young lost girl this tattoo thing could really make the difference .. This could really help these kids self esteem and helps give them a chance they deserve.. Chris buddy I do not know you personally but I am proud to have heard of you as a fellow artist and love of ink and the salvation of today's misguided and abused.. Thank you for being awesome :). You are doing more than you realize.
Katiecakes Hayes May 05, 2013 at 11:01 AM
I didn't mean to but in.. This is really great advice :) it is nice to read so many people wanting to help any way they can and I am so used to reading mean comments of mean people that try to hurt or embarrass one another sorry for butting in I just thought this was really cool of you and really good advice it would help tons if applied correctly.. have a great day! sorry for butting in
Sandy Bator Clark May 05, 2013 at 12:22 PM
I guess my comment didn't go. That's ok. But I will say I'm happy to see 99.9% positive comments. Thank you people, and thank you Chris, God bless to all.
Kathleen May 05, 2013 at 08:27 PM
Katiecakes, no apology needed, for butting in. As you can see, I have no problem butting in. :o) I do websites and online advertising. And I have done some fundraising for our local pet rescue. Near the top another commentor, BN asked Chris where they could make a donation and Chris said, there was a paypal link “half way down the page” and that was my trigger. If you are given a web address and you still have to ask how, something is wrong. Thanks for the props. I am glad my frankness was taken in the manner in which it was intended. People DO want to help. BN proved that right here, but not everyone will take the time to ask. Blessings, to you and yours :o)
Joe LaBarre May 06, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Being in the same business as Kathleen I can agree with her and Katiecakes that the advice she gave is solid and earnest. No company plug or offer to revise the site for you,(As is a common tactic in comments forums) just professional advice offered no doubt, by the inspiration that many of us feel when reading your story. Keep on keeping on both of you.
Kathleen May 06, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Thanks Joe, you made my day :o)
Katiecakes Hayes May 07, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Sandy I was just thinking the same thing! Joe and Kathleen thank you I find this almost bizarre how cool most of the comments on here have been positive and constructive and for the right reasons not to make money or take pot shots at each other. Great crowd of people you all are. I wish you all the very best in life :)
Dee Deedra May 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Wow! How God's work through anything n everything!!! I pray for U n ask All Mighty 2 open bigger doors for ur ministry! We need u! GBU!!!! Keep ur Hope n Help 2 others ALIVE by d name of GOD!

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