Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Beneath the ink

Staff Writer | November 24, 2022 1:08 AM

Tattoos are a form of self-expression.

What happens when the person beneath the ink grows into a different person and wants nothing more than to shed that former skin?

It takes courage, and laser tattoo removal.

"Oh my gosh, that was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my entire life,” said Paul Myers of Post Falls. “It put my body in shock. I was sweating — my shirt was drenched with ice-cold sweat. I was shivering. But I made it all through the whole session, I’m pretty proud of myself. It was an hour of pure torture."

Myers, 39, is not removing one tattoo, nor is the process simple. Myers is undergoing laser removals to rid himself of the reminders of a life he once lived and barely survived.

"Every one of my tattoos I’m having removed are gang related and done in prison,” he said.

Myers comes from a past of substance abuse, gang activity and homelessness.

His story began in tumult. He was born to teenage parents whose lives were steeped in drugs and crime.

"Growing up with so many people in and out of our lives, it seemed daily we were finding out that someone we knew was murdered or died of an overdose," Myers recounted. "We hardly knew the difference."

He and his little brothers were constantly left with strangers, sometimes for weeks at a time, and never knew what happened to their mom or if they would ever see her again.

"There was a time in our lives when the only food we ate was from a convenience store," Myers said. "Before they would throw their food out, they’d wait for us to come, it was usually just me and my two younger brothers, Tyler and Nathan. We’d walk there and they’d give us the hotdogs on the rollers, the popcorn they were going to throw out. Whatever they had left, they’d put in a bag for us.”

The brothers bounced from Idaho Falls to Las Vegas and back, sometimes with their mom, sometimes with family members. They became foster kids, where they suffered abuse at the hands of many of the families tasked with caring for them. Soon they were split up.

Myers eventually found a place to belong running drugs for the Norteños, a neighborhood gang into which he was jumped at age 9. This led to a five-year prison sentence and a life that continued down a dark path after he was released.

He met his girlfriend, Stephanie Oxner, who inspired him to go back to school and build a better future. Then their first daughter was born, and she changed everything.

"I quit when my daughter was born and I never turned back," Myers said.

A happy, productive, honest life is what Myers is striving for. He is celebrating five years of sobriety and loving being a daddy. He and Oxner welcomed their second daughter into the world in July. With so much to live for, Myers is now working on getting a degree in elementary education at North Idaho College, where he is a math tutor, and he wants to give back to the world. He especially wants to help youths who are struggling like he once did.

But the tattoos on his neck, face and hands have haunted him. This spring, he completed volunteer teaching hours at Seltice Elementary School, an experience he cherished. When the fourth graders asked about his tattoos, he told them they were family crests.

“I had to lie to them about it. I didn’t have to but I chose to. That’s when I decided to take them off,” Myers said. "It wasn't because I thought they’d be scared. It’s because I thought they’d think it was cool."

A math tutor colleague and friend, Brenda Paustian, knew he wanted to remove the tattoos and introduced him to the college's Center for New Directions program, which connected him with Charity Reimagined and Press Christmas for All. With their help, and Advanced Aesthetics in Coeur d'Alene providing the service, Myers can afford the eight removal sessions that normally cost $800 each. He underwent his first session in August and has a few more to go.

He is determined to free himself from the ghosts of his past.

“This is the price I have to pay," he said. "This is a very small price to pay for some of the stuff that I’ve done in my life."

Paustian calls Myers her "adopted child." She has seen him blossom from a timid new student to someone who goes out of his way to help others.

"He's come so far," she said. "He's done so much personal growth. He has these goals, and come hell or high water, he's going to make them happen. The thing about Paul is he's not just doing things for himself, no matter what he's doing at NIC he's always got others in mind.

"It's not many students who work so hard to get through their math classes and turn around and become math tutors," she continued. "He knows what it takes to overcome and he knows what it takes to be successful, and he's going to do it. I have no doubt."

The Center for New Directions connects students in need with resources to help them on their academic journeys. Student Success Navigator Louisa Rogers shared a written statement about Myers.

"Much like the Apostle Paul from the Bible, Paul's story is one of redemption," she wrote. "Paul wants to be a teacher. He was accepted to the University of Idaho, after spending two years at NIC, and is motivated and determined to finish his degree and become a teacher."

Charity Reimagined board member Elaine Kingston said when they received Myers' application for help, "we knew immediately we needed to help him."

"He has cleared so many large hurdles in his life through his own resilience and tenacity," she said. "We are very excited to help him be successful as a future teacher of our children."

Myers has big plans to pay it forward.

"I believe I can make an impact, especially for those children who suffer as I did," he said. "I believe that my story is relatable to many people."

By removing the tattoos, he knows in his heart community members and parents of the students he will one day teach will be more accepting of knowing the live he once lived is far behind him.

The Press Christmas for All campaign kicks off today. Over the next few weeks we will share the stories of those applying for help from the holiday charity program.

We will also share stories like this one, stories that illustrate the resilience of the human spirit and the power of helping our neighbors take courageous steps to improve their lives.

Each year, Press readers donate generously to the program. Every penny raised is distributed to Kootenai County residents. All overhead costs are covered by The Hagadone Corp.

The gift recipients are our neighbors who are struggling, including the elderly, the homeless, veterans in need, and people with disabilities and mental illness. Many who seek assistance from Christmas for All are working, but living in poverty.

Beneficiaries of Press Christmas for All keep their dignity while the community provides a hand up to help get them back on their feet.

Press Christmas for All is managed by The Hagadone Corp., with assistance from CharityReimagined.Org. It is a legally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit, run entirely by volunteers.

Here are ways to donate:

  • Mail a check to Press Christmas for All, 215 N. Second St., Coeur d'Alene, 83814.
  • Call The Press and make a secure credit card donation over the phone: 208-664-8176
  • Drop off your check at The Press weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.: 215 N. Second St. in downtown Coeur d'Alene.
  • Visit cdapress.com and click on Christmas for All 2022 to make a secure, online donation.



Paul Myers shows the remnants of a star tattoo that was inked into his neck while he was in prison. Myers, 39, is a proud daddy of two who has dreams of being a teacher to give back to a world that has given him a second chance. He is working to have the tattoos removed.



Math tutor Brenda Paustian is a good friend and mentor of Paul Myers, who is working with Press Christmas for All and Charity Reimagined to have gang-related tattoos removed so he can be successful in his future as a teacher and advocate for troubled youths. "He's come so far," she said. "He's done so much personal growth. He has these goals, and come hell or high water, he's going to make them happen."


Courtesy photo

Paul Myers and girlfriend Stephanie Oxner love on their baby girl Nina. Myers walked a dark path until the day Nina was born, when he gave up all substance use. He and Oxner welcomed a second baby in July 2022.

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