Colorado resident Michael Kent is a changed man, and he has one person to thank for it… his parole officer.
Kent is a former neo-Nazi who used to boast about white power and white supremacy. He also had numerous tattoos, including a swastika, tattooed on his body. His “WHITE PRIDE” tattoo, which stretched from shoulder to shoulder on his chest, was earned one letter at a time by “messing people up” while he was serving time in prison on drugs and weapons charges.
“I was a real piece of crap,” Kent told the Washington Post. “I regret a lot of stuff that I did. But I can’t take it back, and I’m glad because it made me who I am today.”
Kent was released from prison in 2006 and was required to have regular meetings with his parole officers. For the first year after being released, Kent said the parole officers would visit him in pairs. However, that changed when his case was handed over to Tiffany Whittier, an African-American probation officer in Pinal County, Arizona. Whittier received Kent’s file before making her first visit, and knew about his tattoos. However, despite his neo-Nazi status, Whittier decided to make the visit to Kent’s home alone.
“She showed up, and I lost it,” Kent said, adding that Whittier instantly earned his respect for not fearing him or what his lifestyle represented.
When Whittier entered Kent’s home, she immediately noticed the Nazi flags hanging in his living room, along with a decal reading “extreme hatred” over an image of Adolf Hitler.
“She asked me why,” Kent recalled. “I told her, ‘This is me — take it or leave it.’ ”
According to ABC News, when asked what Whittier thought about Kent’s home, she responded by saying: “I’m not here to judge him. That’s not my job to judge. My job is to be that positive person in someone’s life.”
As the visits continued, Whittier would make comments about the Nazi memorabilia, and even once suggested he replace the Nazi symbols in his home with smiley faces. Kent took Whittier’s advice, and put posters of smiley faces over the racist pictures.
“When you wake up and see a smiley face, you’re going to go to work and you’re going to smile,” Kent said.
Over the years, Kent and Whittier became more than just parolee and parole officer- they became friends, as unlikely as it may seem. He said the respect he had for Whittier ultimately lead to him taking down the Nazi symbols, and made him want to have his neo-Nazi tattoos covered up. Kent was put in touch with Redemption Ink, a non-profit organization that will give free cover-ups for people who have “marks of gangs, prejudice, and hate in the form of a tattoo.” They then helped connect Kent with Fallen Heroes Tattoo in Colorado to start the 15-hour process of having the tattoos permanently covered.
“We called him and said, ‘We’d like to be the next step in your journey,'” David Brown, co-owner of Fallen Heroes Tattoo in Colorado Springs, said. “Michael was truly committed to this deal.”
Kent has two young children, and said he hopes they will never experience the life of hatred he previously lived.
“I don’t want my kids to live the life I lived and live with hate,” he said. “I want my kids to know me for who I am now—a good father, a hard worker, and a good provider.”
[Featured Image by Phovoir/Shutterstock]