CROWN POINT | Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. and an award-winning tattoo artist have combined forces to help teens rid themselves of ink that may hinder education and job opportunities.
A Lake County criminal court judge before taking on his current post last year, Stefaniak saw many defendants who potentially closed doors to potential job offers because of tattoos visible on the face, neck or hands, he said.
Stefaniak spoke with Don Frey, a longtime artist who opened Hammond's first tattoo shop. Those conversations resulted in an effort to help teens and adults who might have made some poor body-art decisions.
Neither teens nor adults need to have cases before the court to be eligible to undergo tattoo removal. Stefaniak is offering the service in the interest of professional and social advancement of region residents with visible tattoos.
"This is something we can do for kids who need a second chance," Frey said, whose shops in Hammond and Hobart have been recognized in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana for their artistry.
Frey said he has an interest in doing what he can to make sure kids are heading in the right direction.
He is currently helping an area 13-year-old who, unknown to his mother, had his name tattooed on his knuckles. The teenager, Sean Payton, is not a court referral.
Sean Payton's mother, Belinda, said he woke her at 8:30 a.m. about 18 months ago to show her what he had done.
"That better not be real," was her immediate reaction, she said. She envisioned him being pushed aside for good jobs someday.
"I could see him flipping hamburgers the rest of his life," she said.
Frey is removing the tattoo for free, she said.
Frey uses the latest laser technique, but even so, removal can take as many as eight sessions, which will be free for teens up to age 18, as part of Stefaniak's program.
Adults will be given a 50 percent discount. Frey estimated minimum costs at about $100. He said the removal is not being offered as a moneymaker but as a customer service.
The court initiative is one of the new programs developed by Stefaniak since taking the juvenile bench in December.