A Lesson from a Prison Tattoo

I’ve got quite a few tattoos. Each of my tattoos was done at a different stage in my life, and each one carries its own memory.

I once spoke at a Christian event organised by a friend of mine. I had a short-sleeve shirt on. After I’d finished giving my talk, we were having coffee and my friend came to me and said, ‘a woman has just come up to me and asked, ‘what’s the speaker doing with a cannabis leaf tattooed on his arm?” He told her that this tattoo had been on my arm for many years. In fact, I was 19 when I had it done. I had a mate who had his own tattooing equipment. One of his bedrooms was a makeshift studio. Like the rest of my tattoos, it carries a memory.

The ones on my hand carry an especially strong memory. I did them myself while I was in Preston Prison doing time for possession of heroin. I did them with water paints, some cotton, and a sewing needle that I’d taken from the mail bag shop. These tattoos represent a really dark period in my life. Underneath all the bravado I had at that time, I was really full of guilt, shame, and I was going through a lot of hurt.

A while ago, I decided to have the tattoos on my hand removed so that my hand would become clean again. At the same time, I also knew that I would be getting rid of those dark memories of the past.

I ended up going to a place in Bolton in Manchester called ‘Laserase’. This outfit uses laser treatment to get rid of unwanted tattoos. It’s an interesting process. They use this huge machine which fires rays into your skin, and as the rays penetrate your skin, they disturb the ink, even though it has been there for years, and eventually the skin becomes clean again.

When I think back on this process, it is clear that there’s a lesson to be learned. A machine is fine for tattoos, but only God can work similar magic with our dark internal memories. See, when we allow God to enter our lives, he gets to work on those unwanted ‘tattoos’ that we carry in our hearts and minds—that past guilt, that past shame, that past hurt, and anything else that we may be carrying. He gets to work from the inside out, and he erases it all away so that we can become clean again.

What about you? What internal memories are you carrying? Are you carrying memories of past guilt, shame, or hurt? Is there something in your past that feels like an unwanted tattoo? Remember that whatever the ‘tattoo’ may be, God can erase it away, because he is the great laser eraser!