Kathleen Albert has spent 20 years covering her left hand, trying to hide it with long sleeves, or even sitting on it.

She got her "home-job" Mongrel Mob tattoos when she was in a relationship with a Rotorua member, in her late 20s.

"It was like, "Oh I love you, you can do anything to me'. It was that kind of dominance."

But the snarling dog, swastika, Roman numerals and layers of names brought Albert a huge sense of shame later in life.

Advertisement
Kathleen Albert's hand before her laser sessions. Photo / Supplied
Kathleen Albert's hand before her laser sessions. Photo / Supplied

"I was paranoid about it. Constantly concealing it became natural to me. .. I just didn't want people to make judgments on it, about me as a person."

When Albert took her mokopuna to childcare, children would ask about the tattoos.

Read more:
New business offering free gang tattoo removals for Rotorua women


"I couldn't explain what those pictures were. You know when they're pointing to a swastika what do you say? It's like I sort of had to say 'That's nothing' and just fob it off and not talk to that child again."

She tried having the hand tattoos removed a few years ago, but the pain was too much - far greater than originally getting them.

Tattoo removal specialist Michelle Washington, with one of her clients, Kathleen Albert (left). Photo / Stephen Parker
Tattoo removal specialist Michelle Washington, with one of her clients, Kathleen Albert (left). Photo / Stephen Parker

But when she found out she could get them removed for free, she tried again.

"It's so different with the numbing cream because when I first tried to get layers off nothing was put on my hand. It's still painful now but I can handle it, it's tolerable, and I suppose this time because I'm so much more determined I just block [the pain] out."

Albert is also involved with Waiariki Women's Refuge and wanted to show the wāhine "an example of how you can remove the past".

Advertisement
Kathleen Albert's had five laser sessions so far. Photo / Stephen Parker
Kathleen Albert's had five laser sessions so far. Photo / Stephen Parker

Her family has been encouraging too.

"They know me as the person I am, so it didn't really matter to them whether they were still there or gone. You know it was like a testimony to my lifestyle though, to my life."

She was not concerned about condemnation from her former gang associates.

"Not at all. They probably feel threatened by me ... I'm still friends and involved with some people who've been in there, who've come out, because for instance him [points to name tattoo on hand], he's the father of my children but, you know, he won't care that I'm doing this."

Kathleen Albert is getting gang tattoos removed from her hand. Photo / Stephen Parker
Kathleen Albert is getting gang tattoos removed from her hand. Photo / Stephen Parker

At first, Albert was only going to have her hand done, but now she wants to remove the tattoos up her arm too.

"It's already making a difference to myself, after five treatments. I don't really care if people want to hire me or fire me, but I think for myself I've noticed I'm a bit more confident just with myself because it's not recognisable any more."