A former white supremacist gang leader has undergone months of painful laser treatment to erase hate-filled tattoos from his face.
Bryon Widner, for years an "enforcer" for some of America's most notorious racist groups, shunned his beliefs after marrying but struggled to get a job due to his appearance. He was so desperate to hide his tattoos he even contemplated using acid to disfigure himself but eventually found a sponsor for expensive laser treatment.
The process, which cost \$32,400 (£20,233), was so painful that he had to be put under general anaesthetic each time and it took 25 operations over 16 months before it was complete. Now his face is completely clear and scar-free and his hair has grown back. His arms and torso are still extensively tattooed but he is inking over the "political" designs such as Nazi lightning bolts.
The former racist, a founder of the Vinlanders gang of skinheads in Ohio, used to have swastikas branded on his scalp as well as HATE stamped across his knuckles, "Blood & Honour" on his neck and "Thug Reich" on his stomach. A black arrow, pointing upwards, was also etched onto his forehead as a symbol of his willingness to die to for his race.
He and his wife Julie, a former member of the National Alliance, started to question their beliefs after they married in 2006 and were raising Mrs Widner's three children and a baby of their own. Mr Widner sent his "patch" back to his skinhead group and threw all his other belongings denoting his former life onto a bonfire but the couple struggled to find a solution for his facial tattoos.
They scoured the internet but the surgery was so complicated and expensive that they started to investigate homemade possibilities. He said: "I was totally prepared to douse my face in acid."
Eventually, they were put in touch with the Southern Poverty Law Centre who became convinced the couple were genuine and found a sponsor to pay for the treatment. The donor said: "For him to have any chance in life and do good, I knew those tattoos had to come off."
Dr Bruce Shack, of the Department of Plastic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, used a laser pen to trace the tattoos and burned them off Mr Widner's face. After a couple of sessions, he realised his patient was in too much pain and that he would have to be given a general anaesthetic each time.
Mr Widner now suffers frequent migraines and has to stay out the sun because of the treatment but he says: "It's a small price to pay for being human again."
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