March 28, 2010; Los Angeles Times | About the only good news from a report of the theft of a machine that a nonprofit clinic in Los Angeles uses to remove tatoos from gang members is that it can’t be easily pawned. According to the Los Angeles Times, the $50,000 laser-removal device is “central’ to the mission of the Sunshine Community Outreach Center,” which helps former gang members rid themselves of a very visible symbol of lives they’re now turning away from.

Without the machine, the Center can’t operate. In a typical year, the center removes tattoos from about 200 people. The burgled machine would normally be used over the course of 10 sessions to beam a laser beneath the skin to break up the ink.

Why is it so important to remove tattoos? As the newspaper reports, “Gang members, prostitutes and other underworld denizens in Los Angeles are often young when they get their tattoos, marks of ill-conceived loyalty that hinder the wearer later on, when they try to get jobs and change their lives.”  Most of the center’s clients are referred there by juvenile detention, police or parole officials, or by gang-intervention groups.

For now, the center has canceled all scheduled treatments, leaving clients both upset and unsure what to do. Former 49-year-old gang member David Pacheco, who’d been making regular trips between L.A. and Phoenix said he was having a large tattoo removed from his neck, not just for himself, but to set a good example for his children too. With four treatments left to go before the tattoo is completely gone, Pacheco said in addition to the machine, thieves “stole my future.”—Bruce Trachtenberg