When Michael Kent was released from an Arizona prison in 2006, he was covered in hateful tattoos.
While behind bars, Kent got a swastika tattooed on his neck, a swastika on his chest, the phrase “white pride” on his upper back and the white supremacist symbol "1488" on his neck.
He was inked “with a guitar string and burnt hair grease, chess pieces, cups,” he explained in a Facetime interview. “Everything but the kitchen sink.”
Once out of prison, he moved to the city of Maricopa for work.
Pinal County probation officer Tiffany Whittier, who is black, was assigned to his case and they formed an unlikely friendship.
She would check in with him once a month for two years and he would successfully complete his probation.
“She’d seen stuff most people would run from,” he said about the Nazi flag and other memorabilia he used to decorate the inside of his trailer.
He recalled a conversation they had one day about the choice of his décor.
“When you wake up in the morning, you’re going to see hate, you’re going to breed hate, you’re going to want hate,” he remembers her telling him. “You need to start taking that crap down and put up smiley face, so when you wake up first thing in the morning you’re going to see a positive.”
Eventually he did.
“You know what it helped? I started feeling better about myself.”
Now a decade later, Kent lives in Colorado and works on a chicken farm.
“I couldn’t easily change in Arizona,” said Kent. “I relocated to help me finalize my transformation.”
He started the process to cover up his swastika tattoos a few months ago with Redemption Ink, a nonprofit that covers up hateful or prejudice tattoos for free.
So far, the swastika on his chest is slowly transforming into a wolf. He still has many hours left to change the rest of his hateful symbols on his body.
“I did it because I wanted to live my life for me and not be ugly and hateful anymore.”
He credits Whittier for inspiring him to change.
“She believed in me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here where I am now if it wasn’t for her. I’m glad she came into my life. For whatever reason, I’m thankful.”
Whittier is still a probation officer in Pinal County and is happy to hear he’s still listening to her advice all these years later.
“It’s a really good feeling to have because you don’t hear that very often in the job, the line of work that I do. It’s not very often you hear positive things so when you do it feels good,” said Whittier.
“For him to do that, that says a lot that I made an impact on him and I don’t know what I did other than doing my job,” she added.
His story is going viral. As of Saturday, this ABC Facebook video has 43 million views. He said he didn’t ask for the all the media attention, but is glad most of the feedback he’s been getting is positive.
Some have reached out to him saying his story inspired them to change their hateful ways.
“In a million years, I never thought one voice could make difference,” said Kent.
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