Meet Bryon Widner, a former gang leader who ultimately changed his views… but was unable to escape his past, because of his tattoos.
According to the Daily Mail, he was one of the founders of a violent skinhead gang called the Vinlanders, and was known as the “pitbull” of skinheads. To showcase his commitment to this world and his gang, he covered his body and face with neo-Nazi imagery during his teens and early 20s, including the word “HATE” tattooed on his fist.
Eventually, Widner married another then–white nationalist named Julie in 2006. They later had a child, and he tried to transition into mainstream society, but it was difficult. He had a hard time getting a job and couldn’t support his family.
As both matured, Widner and Julie began to feel different about their rascist views. Becoming married, their feelings of hate and anger dulled, and the two decided to distance themselves from their past.
“Somewhere along the way,” Susan Roth writes in an introduction to her podcast Hey Human. Bryon “realized the hate he’d been directing outward was a salve for his own self-loathing.”
While their views changed, his tattoos told a different story. Knowing society would never accept him, he chose to remove his tattoos permanently.
His wife out reached out to a man named Daryle Lamont Jenkins, who runs an organization that monitors and publicizes information about hate groups called the One People’s Project. The two worked out a deal: if Bryon shared information about the white supremacist movement, Roy would helped him find a donor to help cover the expensive tattoo removal costs.
An anonymous donor agreed, but under the stipulations that he get his GED, attend counseling, and consider college or a trade school.
After 2.5 years of treatments (25 surgeries) and a cost of $35,000 USD, Widner’s face is finally free of the hate tattoos he covered it with.
Their life choices, however, have not been without consequences. Since speaking out, the Widners have had to move twice. But, he hopes his message can steer something to either leave or never join white supremacist groups at all.
“If I can prevent one other kid from making the same mistakes I did,” Bryon says in an MSNBC documentary Erasing Hate. “If I can prevent one other family from having to go through the same crap that I put my family through, maybe I can redeem myself.”