Sturgill rose high in the ranks and collected numerous tattoos as evidence. “When I got locked up, I didn’t have any tattoos,” he says. These days he’s covered in them—cobwebs on his face, full sleeves on both arms, and a host of tattoos on his torso and back. He’s lost track of his total tattoo count, but could identify that at least nine are gang-related or racist. But getting them removed is part of a larger life change.
“I quit doing drugs. I stopped selling drugs. I try not to fight anymore,” he explains. “It’s just something I had to do. And getting these tattoos covered puts a period on that chapter of my life.”
Sturgill, who lives in West Baltimore, found out about Southside Tattoo through a counselor at Health Care for the Homeless—a Baltimore-based organization working to end homelessness in the state. His counselor called Dave and shared his story.
“She said, ‘Hey I have a guy for you,’” Dave recalls. Because he was living in Baltimore now, we absolutely wanted to help him first.”
So far, Dave has already covered one of Sturgill’s gang tattoos: four stars representing his ranking in the gang down the length of his neck. The stars are no longer visible—it’s like they were never there. In their place is a bird in flight.
“It’s a sparrow,” says Sturgill. “It represents new beginnings.”
And now Sturgill is seeing Dave for his next cover-up—an iron cross surrounded by several small racist symbols (including a tiny swastika). As Dave starts sketching a stencil for the latest cover up, Sturgill explains how the tattoos never really reflected his personal beliefs.
“I’m not racist at all! I live with a black family. My godson is black,” he explains. “He’s 3 and doesn’t know what any of it means now. But I don’t want him to grow up and say, ‘Uncle Randy doesn’t like black people.’”