Two faded blue tattoos on Alberto Mota's arms are all that's left of his gang days.
Heat from lasers focused on Mota's shoulder cause the ink under his skin to explode, sending the particles through his bloodstream where his body breaks them down until the tattoo disappears.
The 31-year-old grimaces as the laser hits the ink, and his skin bubbles up from the heat. The smell permeates the cramped procedure room -- like an orange-scented cleaner mixed with rotting food.
One of his tattoos is almost gone. The dark blue is now a lighter shade, and the black outlines are broken up.
It's as if his nine years in the gang is seemingly erased.
Las Vegas doctor Julio Garcia makes it possible for former gang members like Mota to move on with their lives by removing tattoos in partnership with Clark County's Department of Juvenile Justice Services and the Clark County Juvenile Court.
A visibly upset Garcia tells the story of growing up in a Chicago neighborhood where the Latin Kings tried to recruit him into their group.
His parents uprooted the family to the suburbs to escape the gangs.
"I look at these kids and I see me," Garcia said, holding back tears. "I could have ended up just like them. I never thought about it much until now that I'm doing this. These thoughts in the back of your brain come out of that little closet in there, and it's hard."
Garcia was honored recently by the county's Gang Task Force for his work in erasing gang markings in Clark County.
His office has removed gang tattoos from about 200 kids in four years for free. About 80 percent of them were males. Most were 14 to 21 years old.
Most of the tattoos Garcia removes are from hands, shoulders and faces. It depends on a person's involvement in the gang as to how many tattoos they have and where they're located on their bodies.
Gangs usually use homemade tattoo guns, so the inks do not run as deeply as professional tattoo artists and are therefore less painful to remove, Garcia said.
It takes six to 10 treatments before the ink is completely gone, a process that can last a full year.
Mota had the gang symbols inked on his left shoulder and right forearm. Most of his "homies" are dead or in prison, he said.
"I didn't realize in the future it was gonna affect me. I was seeing people get shot and nobody does nothing about it. And I said if I don't get out, I'll die."
Mota spray-painted graffiti and recruited gang members by "jumping" them in, an initiation process in which new members are beaten for minutes at a time until they are finally considered a part of the gang.
Now he volunteers his time with police to stop gang graffiti and runs a ministry group aimed at troubled youth.
However, tattoo removal isn't enough to truly be out of a gang.
"It really counts a lot, but it doesn't mean I'm out," Mota said. "It's also where you're living. Even though I stopped gang banging, I was still going out with them. It didn't look right. You need to be completely away from the gangs. I had to stay away from them."
Mota's parents moved about 10 years ago from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to get him "out of the territory" once and for all.
His brother was a victim of a drive-by shooting in L.A., but survived. That shooting motivated Mota's desire to quit gang life.
"I noticed nobody cared about it," he said. "They just let it go. My brother was caught in the way, and he was the only one shot. There are all these problems in the hoods, but people are afraid to speak out."
Jerry Simon, the county's gang specialist, said the tattoo removal cannot be forced. It has to be wanted by the youth.
"It's when he has that little moment of truth in his life that we seize it immediately so we're acting on that truth and he doesn't back step toward the game," Simon said. "And as that tattoo comes off, the last remnants of the gang comes off, and he's able to leave that life and go on with a good life."
Contact Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.