Unscarred for life
Updated: 2011-11-13 09:17
The former skinhead underwent 25 surgeries over 16 months, on his face, neck and hands. He was under general anesthetic for many of the 90-minute operations. [Photo / Agencies]
After months of pain, a former racist skinhead has put a new face forward.
Bryon Widner and his wife Julie were pillars of the white power movement when they first met. People grabbed their children when Widner swaggered into a store, and lowered their voices when he entered a restaurant. He had symbols of racist violence carved into his face and the letters HATE stamped across the knuckles of his right hand. "Blood & Honour" was tattooed across his neck, "Thug Reich" across his belly, swastikas adorned his shaved scalp.
But after getting married in 2006, and settling down together to raise his wife's three children from a former marriage, and a child of their own, the couple started to question their racist beliefs.
He threw his racist belongings into a bonfire. But he knew he still had to wipe the tattoos from his face - or he'd be forever shunned on job sites, in stores and restaurants.
The couple had scoured the Internet trying to learn how to safely remove the facial tattoos. But few doctors have performed such complicated surgery and it would have been prohibitively expensive.
So Widner began investigating homemade recipes. "I was totally prepared to douse my face in acid," he says.
In desperation, Julie did something that once would have been unimaginable. She reached out to a black man.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins runs an anti-hate group in Philadelphia. He pointed the Widners down a trail that ultimately led to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The center found a donor to pay for Widner's tattoos to be surgically removed. The surgery cost $35,000.
Dr Bruce Shack used a laser pen to trace the tattoos and burned them off Widner's face. It took many sessions for the ink to fade.
"You are going to feel like you have the worst sunburn in the world, your face will swell up like a prizefighter, but it will eventually heal," Shack warned Widner.
Widner said he had never felt such pain, in bar brawls or prison fights. Today his arms and torso are still extensively tattooed, but his face is clean and scar free, and he has a shock of thick black hair.
His neck and hands have suffered some pigment damage, he gets frequent migraine headaches and he has to stay out of the sun. But, he says, "It's a small price to pay for being human again."