After spending 21 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, Terrance Lewis is ready for a new start. To do so, he's seeking to remove some skin-deep reminders of his past.
Lewis, 40, became a free man in May after being exonerated of second-degree murder. On Wednesday, he took a step toward a new life by walking into a Center City Philadelphia tattoo removal center to permanently rid his flesh of the ink markings that represented his old life.
"I want to start cleaning my closet because I definitely picked up throughout my journey some luggage, some unwanted luggage - whether it's something that relates emotionally, physically and even mentally - and this is the start right here," he said.
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Lewis was one of five people to receive free tattoo removal treatments at The Finery during National Tattoo Removal Day. The business' I Now Know (INK) program offers free tattoo removals for survivors of sex trafficking, former gang members and, like Lewis, those who were previously incarcerated.
The Finery has helped about 100 people at four of its locations through its INK program, owner Carmen Brodie said. The gratitude shown by the people she helps makes it all worthwhile.
"We have people come back and say, 'Thank you for giving my life back. I now have a job and I couldn't have done it without you,'" Brodie said.
As Lewis sat in the tattoo removal chair, a laser specialist leaned over him, aiming the beam of energy first at his arm and then at his wrist. Slowly, the "Stink" tattoo that represented his childhood nickname began to disappear. So too did the "MOB" marking that he got inked on his wrist shortly after entering prison.
Lewis grimaced as he felt some pain, yet he also laughed and smiled. After this, perhaps he could start anew.
"This is a fresh start - my vision, my outlook and my presentation," he said.