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The costs and benefits of one teen's tattoo

A look at the neck tattoo of 18-year-old Jahsan. The teen says it offers protection -- though it may hurt his chances of getting ahead at work.

The first thing you notice about 18-year-old Jahsan Lambey is his neck tattoo. It's done in thick black ink and it sits right in the center of his neck. Jahsan spent $60 on the tattoo and he says that's a small price to pay for art.

"My body is my canvas, I like drawing. I drew the neck tattoo out for the tattoo artist to do it, so it's just cool to me to see that I can look at it every day," he says.

The tattoo looks like the Roman numeral II with flames on the side of his neck going up. He chose the Roman numeral II because it's the symbol of the Gemini. On one side of Jahsan's neck is a hellish looking skull and on the other heavenly clouds. He says it really represents his two different sides "as far as the good and the bad."

Jahsan's mom says her son may have only paid $60 for the tattoo, but in many ways it cost him a lot more. Jahsan works in an auto shop now, but his mom worries about his future job prospects, among other things.

"It's like when you're young and dumb and you get your name tattooed on you. Why are you get your name tattooed on you? You're gonna forget your name? It just kind of looks stereotypical. Like some hard, thugged out young guy," she says.

When she heard about his tattoo and saw it on Facebook, she was so devastated -- "to the point of being in tears about it." She also worries it might get him in trouble with the law.

"I mean he's young, he's black, he has such a prominent tattoo on his neck. It's not the end of your life, but that's a negative calling card for him," she says.

Before her kid got a neck tattoo, Jahsan's mom says she'd avoid guys in the neighborhood like her son.     

"If I saw my son not being my son, I wouldn't necessarily want to really stand too close," she says.

And she wonders how many people turn stay away from her kid. I have to admit, when I first met him, I did. Jahson noticed.
 
"I know that when you met me, you were like what the? I know your mind isn't already thinking I'm a bad kid, but I'm sure you wouldn't think I'm as well spoken as I am." he says.

It's not that I wouldn't think Jahsan was well spoken, I was surprised he was so soft spoken. He has a dreamy sweetness to him. And for a boy growing up in a rough neighborhood, maybe he inhabits a world Jahsan's mom and I don't just understand.

Jahsan says he was picked on as a kid and put down a lot because he was really small. He's 5'7" and says he wants to get to 5'9". For Jahsan, the value of the tattoo is more than just art -- it offers protection. When he runs across someone looking for a fight, the neck tattoo comes in handy. He says there's a difference before and after the tattoo in terms of getting bothered.

"A lot of people will look past me that are looking for trouble. People prey upon the weak and I can give a certain look that makes you feel kind of intimidated. I haven't been bothered in a long, long time," he says.

He even has a job now. But might the tattoo hurt his future chances of getting a job?

"[It's] hard to say, but yes. Maybe it wasn't the best decision, but I believe I can get really far. I'm young and I'm saying that now, and maybe when I'm 30 years old I'll be like, this is silly," he says.

So the final cost/benefit analysis of the $60 neck tattoo? Well, it might hurt Jahsan's chances of getting ahead at work, but it might also keep him a little safer on the bus ride there.


Tattoos might traditionally send negative signals to an employer: that you are a rebel, or that you don't think about the future. But as they become more and more common, do tattoos still matter as much around the workplace? Check out our interview with an executive career coach.

About the author

Tanya Jo Miller is a new media producer.

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