Bryon Widner called himself a “borderline sociopath,” who was once brimming with hate and a lust for violence.
At the young age of 14, Widner became a skin head and spent 16 years invovled with racist organizations in the midwest. He earned the nickname “pit pull” and went on to co-found Vinlanders Social Club, a white power group in Indiana.
The club soon earned a reputation for excessive violence and became one of the fastest-growing racist skinhead organizations in the US.
Then in 2005, Widner married Julie Larsen and a year later, the couple had a son. Becoming a father gave Widner the desire to shed his old life and leave the racist movement — a wish also shared by his new wife.
Widner made the choice to leave the neo-nazi group but it took multiple years of death threats as well as harassment before he finally felt like he was becoming “human again.”
Widner’s attempts to become apart of society again was made difficult due to his many racist facial tattoos. His wife Julie was scared that he would do something extreme to erase his tattoos as he sunk into depression and desperation.
“I was totally prepared to douse my face in acid,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Eventually, Julie contacted Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an anti-racist activist who put her in contact with the Southern Poverty Law Center. After multiple weeks of meetings as well as evaluation, SPLC representatives decided that Widner was genuine in his desire to fully come back into society and agreed to help him remove his facial tattoos.
They were able to find a plastic surgeon who was willing to go through with a procedure and an anonymous donor provided $35,000 for the procedures.
The entire removal of Widner’s facial tattoos took around a year and a half, and had to go through a dozen individual procedures, all of them very painful.
The Chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Dr. Bruce Shack, told Widner that the removals would feel like “you have the worst sunburn in the world, your face will swell up like a prizefighter, but it will eventually heal.”
“This is not going to be any fun.”
It only took a few days for both the burns and the oozing blisters to heal before he was ready for the next round under the laser. But Widner was set on doing the right thing by his new family and continued to go back for the painful procedures until only some scarring remained.
Since then, Widner has become the subject of a documentary that tells his story of redemption called Erasing Hate. As well as this, a feature film called Skin was recently released and is a dramatized version of his story which stars Billy Elliot actor Jamie Bell as the reformed neo-nazi.
Wilder has now covered up his remaining racist body tattoos after throwing out everything to do with his racist past. He hopes that his story will inspire others.
Sharing with Bored Panda, he offered the following advice:
“You do not owe anyone anything, please take a step back, and realize this world will always fight back. Before throwing your life away, quit digging your own grave, and know that hate has consequences.”
Amen to that!