Tattoo program has potential to change lives inside and outside Stillwater Prison

Publish Date
Group learning to become tatoo artists

In the basement of the Stillwater Correctional Facility, incarcerated people are learning to become tattoo artists. The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) is piloting a new tattoo program that officials are hoping will address health concerns, lower medical costs and provide future employment opportunities. Local 1202’s Justin Jimenez, an award-winning tattoo artist with his own shop in Forest Lake, was hired by DOC to create and launch the program.  

“They wanted to cut down on hepatitis C outbreaks and do-it-yourself tattooing, as well as create some opportunities. Students will be able to use their tattoo license to get a career going when they get out,” Jimenez said.  

DOC sees about 100 cases of hepatitis C in correctional facilities annually. Treatment costs can reach up to $75,000 per person, making the program cost-effective. Jimenez currently has four students participating in the tattoo apprentice program at the Stillwater correctional facility.   

Jimenez, who has taught multiple apprentices before coming to Stillwater, said he is doing “a traditional tattoo apprentice program here. Other than where it’s being done, the extra security, this is how I would do it for anyone else.” 

Students are learning everything from machine function operation, the history of tattooing, design and composition, more than 15 styles of tattooing and medical information about blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. After months of practice, they are eligible to get temporary licenses.  

Justin Jimenez Local 1202

Students attend the program from 7:30 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. daily Monday-Friday. “We’re almost ready to start taking actual tattoo appointments. People will be able to sign up in June. We’ll start with simple designs and go up to more complicated and intricate designs, almost anything you could get in the outside world,” Jimenez said.  

To be accepted into the tattoo program, participants must be discipline-free for a year, have a high school diploma or GED and demonstrate artistic ability. Students must bring a portfolio of drawings and paintings they’ve done to an in-person interview.  

“Students here are a lot like my students on the outside – they’re all eager to learn, passionate about art, share the same goals and things they want to do on the outside. If you’re meant for this career, you’ll have that passion and drive,” Jimenez said.  

“I’ve learned that I really enjoy being able to teach and help others better themselves. I had a lot of students to choose from. When I pick an apprentice, I look for talent, drive, is this person humble, are they able to take constructive criticism, do they want to learn? I have high hopes and am excited to work with all of them. I think they’re going to be successful at this,” he added.