GONE FOR GOOD
SKIN DOC’S FREEDOM INK PROGRAM HELPS EX-GANG MEMBERS CLEAN UP
Eric Seiger, D.O., is one busy guy. As a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, Seiger bounces between offices in Fenton and Sterling Heights, delivering expert skin care and rejuvenating cosmetic enhancement to clients at his bustling Skin & Vein Center practice.
A nationally recognized physician trainer and faculty member with the dermatology residency program at Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital, Dr. Seiger excels in providing innovative procedures to keep metro Detroiters looking gorgeous and youthful. He specializes in one-hour mini-facelifts, lightningfast laser hair removal, and specialized yet affordable three-process microdermabrasion acne treatments.
Yet, Dr. Seiger’s professional passion is much more than skin deep. Six years ago, Dr. Seiger searched for a community service program that would utilize his skills and make a difference in the lives of individuals working hard to turn their lives around. Aware that former Detroit gang members and ex-convicts bear daily reminders of their past in the form of tattoos, he connected with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation in southwest Detroit and put his skills to work. Through his nonprofit organization Freedom Ink, Dr. Seiger removes gang tattoos in order to help individuals leave violent lifestyles behind – once and for all.
“Once a month, I’d bring a laser and remove tattoos from ex-gang members committed to living a gang-free lifestyle. It’s one of the most rewarding things I get to do,” says Seiger emphatically. “These are not just tattoos; they’re like targets on these people. They may have gone to prison and come out, and now they’re 26 with a 5-year-old child that they walk around with, and they’re targeted. Not having visible tattoos keeps them safer and allows them to get jobs,” Reyes says. “Without his generosity, we would never get rid of gang-related tattoos, many of which grace hands.” “I have been able to help so many people transform their necks and faces, are removed by Freedom Ink at no charge”‘ says Dr. Seiger, noting that about one-fourth of the 30 or so individuals he helps each month are women, and most are recruited into gangs as children.
“So many of these people join gangs because they want a sense of belonging,” Seiger says. “In elementary school or junior high, they’re recruited with a promise that the gang will be their family, but it’s really about exploitation and making money.”
Within the past year, Freedom Ink was able to secure a donated laser, which they now use for the tattoo removal, a process that requires six to 10 treatments of about five minutes each (depending on the size of the tattoo) and spans about a year. It can be fairly painful, says Seiger. “But their eyes well with tears with how grateful they are. It’s a total new beginning for them, a new hope. That constant reminder, the scarlet letter on their skin, it’s gone.”
Now Dr. Seiger instructs residents from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in removal, providing Freedom Ink opportunities for former gang members twice a month.
For those dedicated to transforming their lives, tattoo removal is a huge step that allows people to seek employment, erase social stigma and reintegrate into the community, according to Angela Reyes, founder and executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. This process is critical to the positive turnaround for ex-gang members or those returning to the community from prison, she says, crediting Dr. Seiger for his commitment to the program and to those it helps.
“Dr. Seiger is one of the most generous, caring people I know,” Reyes says. “Without his generosity, we would never have been able to help so many people transform their lives.” – Claire Charlton