A few months ago, when we were in Toledo, Ohio, we spotted a small item in the Toledo City Paper about a tattoo artist named Brian Finn.
Finn has been tattooing for nearly 20 years. These days, he does it on his days off, too — but not for just anyone. On those days, he's creating tattoos for people with scars caused by trauma: domestic violence, human trafficking or self-inflicted.
And he's offering these tattoos free.
"Otherwise, you know, they wouldn't be able to get that done. Maybe they don't have the money for it," Finn says. "The cost of equipment isn't that much. It just takes up my time, so if I can make somebody's day better — or life better — just covering up a scar from a bad experience, I sleep a little better."
Maddie Keating read the article in the paper, too. The 20-year-old had scars on her arms — from self-inflicted wounds — that she wanted to cover up.
"I started cutting when I was about 12," Keating says. "I entered into a really deep depression, so for about six or seven years, I was pretty heavily self-harming."
One of the places Keating cut herself the most was on her left forearm. Now, having come out on the other side of her depression, she says she doesn't "want it quite that visible all the time."
Keating hasn't cut herself in years, and while she is not ashamed of the scars on her arms, they are a reminder "of a really dark, hard time."
She couldn't afford the design she wanted — an ornate, stylized black-and-white rose — so she emailed Finn, asking "what's the catch?" There wasn't one. The two emailed back and forth for a few weeks, then set a date for the appointment.
The tattoo itself took about an hour and a half.
"It's gorgeous," Keating says. "And to think that I used to look at my arm and think, 'Wow, that's so sad that I was so sad,' and now I get to have this beautiful rose that Brian drew for me."
As she watched Finn tattoo over her scars, she thought about how far she has come.
"It felt almost like coming full circle. Out of emotional pain, I brought myself physical pain. And now, I took a little bit of physical pain for something really beautiful," Keating says. "And it's really nice to think that anybody that I meet will see something so beautiful and be able to appreciate it with me."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A few months ago, I was in Ohio flipping through the free weekly Toledo City Paper, and I spotted a small item about a tattoo artist named Brian Finn.
BRIAN FINN: Just about done.
SHAPIRO: He's been tattooing for almost 22 years. And now on his days off, he's putting his skills to use in a different way.
FINN: Well, I'm tattooing over scars. It involves a range from domestic violence, human trafficking, self-inflicted
SHAPIRO: And he's doing it for free.
FINN: Otherwise, you know, they wouldn't be able to get that done. Maybe they don't have the money for it. And the cost of the equipment is not that much. It just takes up my time. So if I can make somebody's day better, life better, just covering up a scar from a bad experience, I sleep a little better.
MADDIE KEATING: I read it and I immediately emailed him and I said, this sounds really amazing, so what's the catch? And he emailed really, really quickly back and said, hey, Maddie, there's no catch.
SHAPIRO: That's 20-year-old Maddie Keating. She wanted to cover up some scars on her arms.
KEATING: I started cutting when I was around 12. I entered into a really deep depression. So for about six or seven years, I was pretty heavily self-harming. And one of the places that that manifested the most was on my arms. And now I don't want it quite that visible all the time
SHAPIRO: She says it feels good to have come out on the other side of her depression. She hasn't cut herself in years, but she still has that reminder every time she glances at her arms.
KEATING: It doesn't remind me of feeling good. It's usually just a reminder of a really dark, hard time.
SHAPIRO: She couldn't afford to cover it up with the tattoo she wanted, an ornate, stylized black and white rose. Then she heard about Brian. We had our first conversation with Maddie before she got the tattoo. The next week, we checked in with her again. She told us it took about an hour and a half.
KEATING: Yeah, I definitely feel different just to make something really positive out of something that was so negative for me.
SHAPIRO: And so now when you glance at it, I mean, it's there in front of you on your arm right?
KEATING: Yeah, yeah.
SHAPIRO: Well, take a look at it and tell us how you feel.
KEATING: It's gorgeous. And to think that I used to look at my arm and think, wow, that's so sad that I was so sad. And now I get to have this beautiful rose that Brian drew for me
SHAPIRO: When you were watching him go over these lines on your arm, these lines that you, years ago, had created out of a sense of despair and depression, in that moment as you saw this rose taking shape, what was going through your head?
KEATING: I definitely thought about how far I had come. And I had never wanted to cover my scars out of shame. It felt almost like coming full circle that I had created something out of pain - out of emotional pain, I brought myself physical pain. And now I took a little bit of physical pain for something really beautiful. And it's really nice to think that anybody that I meet will see something so beautiful and be able to appreciate it with me.
SHAPIRO: That was Maddie Keating in Toledo, Ohio. Brian Finn says he'll keep offering free tattoos to cover up scars on his days off as long as people want them. You can see the image of Maddie's arm before and after the tattoo at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.