Temporary Forever

A story about a tattoo. Its temporary crave. Its forever affects.

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It’s a thin line between love and hate. Literally speaking, individuals who tattoo themselves either love it or hate it and for some, learn from it. But, that thin line will remain engraved in the pores of your skin forever. The result of lifelong decisions based off of temporary inclinations can be expensive and painful. Laser removal can range from $75-$300 per session for hours of unbearable pain. So in this case, do you love it, hate it, or live with it? “…It’s meaningless and doesn’t have a point,” says Joi Owens. This is why the 28-year-old managing attorney at Disability Rights MS has recently written a priority list with tattoo removal in the top three. “Pay off my loans, buy a house, and then spend a couple grand going and getting this tattoo removed,” she says.

Growing up in a conservative home in Terry, Miss., Owens was the youngest of three. With at least six years separating her from her siblings, Owens says she grew up in a different climate, a climate of over exposed tattoos, piercings, and sex. At the age of 18, the age of proclaimed independence and adulthood, Owens got a tattoo of a butterfly and her name across her lower back. “I was proud! I showed them (parents) that day once I got home. It was my body!” Very upset and in complete shock, her mother explained that the decision she made would affect her for the rest of her life.

It wasn’t until she began college that she realized her tattoo wasn’t so cool anymore. “My biggest dream was to become Miss Jackson State University. It was bigger than life.” During the fall of her sophomore semester, Owens was elected as Miss Sophomore, making her a member of the royal court in pursuit of her dream of becoming Miss JSU. The advisor of the royal court saw the tattoo and in that moment, Owens had a taste of reality. Her advisor strictly told her that Miss JSU couldn’t have tattoos. It’s all about the perfect image, her advisor also said. “That was the point I began thinking that a tattoo may have not been the best decision,” says Owens.

Owens (front row, right) pictured with sorority sisters. Jackson State University, Spring 2008. Courtesy of Facebook.com

The following semester, Owens joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. That was the first time her tattoo had been labeled as a “tramp-stamp”, which is popular to modern-day culture provocatively describing a tattoo on the lower back of a female. Her sorority sisters all gasped in disbelief that she would have a lower back tattoo because of the stereotypes placed on females versus the type of person Owens truly was.

At the age of 23, Owens gave birth to her son, Legend Gavin. As his curiosity develops, she encourages honest conversations with him. He has never seen her tattoo but if he does before the removal process, Owens says she will not shelter him like her parents did in her upbringing.

Owens and son Legend at dinner time at their home. Terry, Miss., March 2015

“A lot of the decisions I made when I was younger were because of a lack of understanding and awareness.” She says, “A lot of conversations weren’t had and I became exposed to things I wasn’t knowledgeable about. So I gravitated towards it. Legend and I will have lots of conversations. I will love him regardless of his decisions. I wont shun him.”

Owens doesn’t regret getting the tattoo, but says that making that decision has helped her in more ways than one. She now sees the importance of parenting with honest communication. She can also better empathize with adolescents that she counsels as an attorney.

Meanwhile, on the clock at Lafayette Upper Elementary School, Officer Lynn Webb’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich tattoo across her wrist brings forth playful conversation with students. She says, “The kids think it’s cool. They say is it real? It ain’t real Officer Webb.” The 43-year-old deputy sheriff began working at the elementary school in 2008.

Officer Webb laughing with elementary students about her peanut butter and jelly sandwich tattoo. Oxford, Miss., Oxford Upper Elementary School, March 2014.

She began getting tattoos in 1999. A year after completing police academy, Webb got her first tattoo of the cartoon character Garfield with a pistol in his hand and handcuffs. “It was an honor. Tattoos are a pride thing for me. All of mines have meaning.” She continues, “All 14 of them.” One tattoo that she is proud of is the blue cross on her upper left arm. The cross commemorates the death of Officer Robert Langley, a partner and a good friend, who was killed in 2006 in the line of duty.

“For me, it’s calming. I find myself getting tattoos when I have gone through something very stressful,” says Webb. From the drawing of the tattoo to the feeling of the needle prodding into her skin formulates relief in her body and her mind.

Webb’s career, unlike Owens, allows for a little more bodily expression, but in decency. Different departments have separate guidelines for the visibility of tattoos. For the sake of remaining within the guidelines of the Lafayette County Sheriff Office, Webb has decided not to get any more tattoos until she retires within the next two years. She says she would be risking employment if she continued to get more tattoos because she doesn’t have many other places to put them that would be in the guidelines of her career decorum.

Officer Webb showing a select few of her tattoos. The last photo is of her latest tattoo session. Oxford, Miss., Oxford Tattoo Shop, Feb. 2014.

“If you get tattoos you ain’t going to Heaven? I ain’t going to Heaven then,” Webb laughs. Raised in a Methodist church, Webb doesn’t believe that tattoos will condemn you to Hell. Pastor Elbert McGowan agrees. “Paul says whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.” He says, “There are some tattoos that can be a sign post pointing you to the beauty of the Lord.” McGowan is the campus Pastor at Jackson State University. Before becoming a Christian and a pastor, McGowan tattooed and branded himself with his fraternity brothers.

“It opens up this beautiful dialog about Black culture and fraternities, but you have to be cautious. People will judge you by what they see. I want you to get to know me, before you see my tattoos,” says McGowan. While that may be morally just, it’s easier said than done. Any alteration to the physical outer body is subtle to judgment by others. Especially, those alterations that you can’t get rid of. Before making such a decision, be sure to evaluate your motives, weigh the pros and cons and accept that temporary forever. For what may be a temporary inclination can turn into a forever, thin line between love and hate.

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