Bryon Widner, once one of America's most notorious white supremacists, turned his back on racism—but still had a face covered in racist tattoos. Shunned by society and unable to find work, Widner says he became so desperate he considered dousing his face in acid to remove them. Instead, Widner and his wife turned to a former sworn enemy: the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization that tracks hate groups and aggressively works to shut them down. After determining that the skinhead gang founder's change of heart was genuine, the SPLC found a donor willing to foot the approximately $35,000 bill for tattoo removal.
Extensive facial tattoos are rare and it took almost a year to find the right doctors. Widner—who had been forced to flee his native Michigan after receiving death threats from his former comrades and finding pig manure on his cars—underwent a total of 25 surgeries to remove the tattoos from his face, neck, and hands. The pain was so agonizing he had to be put under general anesthetic for every operation; he emerged from each one with burns and oozing blisters. Widner is in the process of inking over extremist tattoos elsewhere on his body. He has built a new life with his wife and young son, but still suffers migraine headaches and has to stay out of the sun. "It's a small price to pay for being human," he tells the AP.