by Ty Spencer Vossler

Joaquin Jaramillo (JJ) was a Norteño. He wore red, was covered with tattoos and came into Teen City out of breath. It was an hour before opening time (2:00 PM). His eyes darted side-to-side and he kept can eye out the window. I introduced myself and he gave me a complicated handshake. Then I challenged him to a game of air-hockey.

“What is this place,” he asked. “I heard a lotta Scraps hang out here.”

That’s how our first conversation went. He asked a lot of questions, I gave honest answers and invited him back. Whoever was chasing him had either given up or was waiting patiently somewhere.

The following day, same time, he returned. In addition to being out of breath, he was bleeding from a shotgun pellet wound to the left shoulder.

“Nah, man,” he protested as I lifted the phone to call for help,“this ain’t nothin’.”

I set the phone down, “What happened?”

“Got ambushed by a carload of Scraps. They can’t shoot for shit,” he finished.

“Why don’t you stop bangin’?” I asked.

“It ain’t that easy,” JJ said.

“How old are you, Joaquin?”


“Want to see nineteen?”

Joaquin did stop. He came back to Teen City five days a week—half the day on Saturday, and he knew better than to show up wearing anything red. With time, the other kids came to accept him and soon he was joining in many of the Tulare Teen City activities. JJ ran in the Max Chaboian Memorial 10K wearing black dress shoes, a wife-beater and a pair of baggy Dickies. He had to hold up his pants with one hand as he ran, yet took first in his age group.

One day he complained to me that he couldn’t find work because of his tattoos. They ran up and down his arms, around his neck, and his knuckles were festooned with gang affiliated dots.

“I have an idea,” I said.

In the Yellow Pages I found, Doctor Michael Johnson/Laser Specialist. I asked the receptionist if I could talk with him. She left a message and a short time later, Michael called me back.

“How would you like to be famous overnight and have so many clients that you’ll need to open a bigger office?”

“Are you my fairy godmother?”

“Michael—can you remove tattoo’s with laser?”

“I’ve done a few, yeah. It’s painful as hell and not too popular.”

“I have someone I’d like you to meet.”

The next morning, I drove JJ to Michael’s office. He examined the tattoos—especially the deep dots on his fingers.

“Jailhouse,” he said, “deep and hard to fade out—but it can be done.”

He explained the procedure to Joaquin—how painful it would be—more than when he’d gotten them.

“Pain,” JJ said, “I’ve lived with pain all my life.”

“Okay. Be here at nine tomorrow morning and we’ll get started.”


The next morning I brought a reporter and a photographer along and the entire procedure was documented and published on the front page of the Visalia Times-Delta. To my knowledge it was the genesis of the first Laser Tattoo Removal Program in the United States.

About the author

Ty Spencer Vossler (MFA) currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico with his wife and their daughter. Vossler has published novels, many short stories, poetry and essays. He attributes his originality to the fact that he shot his television over two decades ago.


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