Josh Persinger made a lot of bad decisions in his life.
He chose to abuse drugs and alcohol. He chose violence. He eventually landed in the prison system – and in 2007, he made another choice that would impact him for years to come.
While an inmate at one of Ohio’s penal institutions, Josh – a scared, somewhat naïve kid – decided he needed to affiliate with a gang in order to survive in prison.
And, with that affiliation came a tattoo – a lightning bolt, joined triangles and the number “88” on his left upper chest (a Nazi symbol).
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, I regret that the most,” he told me recently. “That’s not who I am or ever was.”
And, after getting to know him, I believe he’s telling the truth. Josh is a guy who, as I mentioned before, has made a lot of wrong decisions in his life. But, he is also a guy who is trying desperately to get his life together and become the man that he should be – inside and out.
He has a true moral compass and is slowly learning how his actions not only affect him, but everyone around him. When in doubt, he asks questions. When tempted, he reaches out for help.
He came to Samaritan Works a number of weeks ago – straight out of the Logan County jail with little more that the clothes on his back, $11 in his pocket and the will to change his life.
Since that time, he has begun to make a dramatic turnaround. He attends church regularly, goes to work every day and even admits, “life is a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about chasing women.”
When I was first assessing him for admission, I got to the questions about scars, marks, tattoos and body modifications. He showed me all his ink, but hesitated when I asked if there were any tattoos that he “really shouldn’t have.”
I physically witnessed the shame in his eyes and the sadness on his face as he pulled down the collar of his shirt to show me the tattoo on his chest. He was truly ashamed to the point of tears admitting what he allowed to be stamped on himself – permanently.
During the interview process, he was about to embark on a journey that would change the inner man. But, he still had that stain on the outside – which, in turn, was having a dramatic effect on the man inside. Laser removal of a tattoo is a lengthy, painful and extremely expensive process. A cover-up tattoo would also be expensive – if it could be done, at all. It looked like Josh would be stuck with that abomination on his chest for a long, long time.
Until about a week ago.
The local tattoo artist known to most as “Ditto” found out about Josh’s plight, and immediately and forcefully stepped up. Ditto Kaczemarek is one of the talented artists at Bombshell Ink at the corner of North Main Street and Russell Road in Sidney.
After seeing the prison tattoo, Ditto decided something needed to be done and done soon. “I’m booked up for the next couple of weeks,” he said. “But, bring him in Sunday (his day off) at 12:30.” When asked how much this tattoo was going to cost (I had churches ready to help pay for it), Ditto shook his head and said, “Don’t worry about it. We just need to get this off him.”
Of all images for Josh to pick to replace a symbol of hate and violence, he chose a cross.
He chose the symbol of sacrifice, redemption and renewal. He chose to put a representation of God on his body to replace the image of man’s inhumanity to man.
When the new tattoo was complete, Josh bolted to the mirror and got the biggest grin I have seen from any man in a long time. He just kept repeating, “this is awesome.”
“I don’t have to feel ashamed anymore,” he said. “I can take my shirt off if I want to. I don’t have to hide it.”
I explained to Josh that the original tattoo was still there, under the new one. It will always be part of him. But, with the cross – God has chosen to cover up his past ignorance and sin – the same way he chose to cover up and forget all of our sins.
In Isaiah 43:25, the Bible says that if one should confess with a pure heart, our God will “blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.”
I find it curious the Bible specifically uses the words “blotteth out.” Nothing better portrays forgiveness than those words.
In short, like the now cross-covered gang symbol, that sin is now gone and forgotten – forever in the past.