Want to get rid of your Confederate flag tattoo? This New Jersey tattoo artist will help

Esmailin Sanchez, a tattoo artist in New Jersey, is offering to do free cover-ups of tattoos with racist symbols or imagery.

(CNN)When Esmailin Sanchez decided to open a tattoo shop with his wife in New Jersey two years ago, it took a lot of work to get the shop up to par. He decided he needed some extra help, and hired a local handyman to work at the shop.

Sanchez got along with him immediately, and even trusted him enough to leave the shop keys with him.
Several weeks later, they were talking with one another when the handyman nervously asked if he could get a tattoo on his arm covered up. At first, he didn't want to show the tattoo to Sanchez, but eventually let him see it. It was a Confederate flag.
"He was like 'I feel bad for having this'," Sanchez told CNN. "So I said, 'Let's sit down and cover this up.' We've been friends ever since."
For the last four years of Sanchez's 13-year tattooing career, he has been offering free tattoo cover-ups for any racist symbols or imagery. This was never advertised, he said, but the information spread through word-of-mouth or when the situation arose.
A tattoo design of a Viking intended for a cover-up.
But about two weeks ago, Sanchez decided to post the offer on the shop's Instagram. With "everything that's going on," he said, he wanted to make this service more public. Since then, he's received 300 requests for cover-ups.
Americans across the nation are reckoning with racist iconography, be it the Confederate flag or statues, brand labels or the violent history of the noose. Some are reconsidering their tattoos, and Sanchez is willing to help them in this process.
"I like to see people grow from their old mentalities and help give them a second chance," he said. "I think everyone deserves a second chance."
As a Dominican man, there is an undeniable tension present during these cover-up sessions, he said.
"I've gotten past a lot of things I've experienced," Sanchez said when speaking about his own experiences with racism. He feels that he is helping people grow out of their own biases.
"I understand how intimidating it is for them, to put their pride aside to get it removed."
Sanchez says that he often tries to keep the sessions light-hearted. A favorite tactic is to put on Will Ferrell movies like "Old School" or "Step Brothers" and order a pizza.
He said they are able to bond when laughing at the same thing. His clients often "spew out everything they've been through," he said.
He said he's heard stories of people being peer pressured into getting tattoos of Confederate flags or other icons, or not understanding the meaning of these symbols when they got the tattoo.
"They were in a society that forced them to think one way. They were put in a bad situation. I can't blame them for a lot of the things that happened with the culture they grew up in."
When doing these cover-ups, Sanchez said, he mostly gets Confederate flags or Aryan symbols like "devil lightning bolts" or the "Aryan raised fist." He's noticed that the most common replacement tattoos are skulls or Vikings, and an occasional American flag.
Sanchez is preparing to reopen his shop July 1 for a limited number of customers after closing for the pandemic. They will have a week of regular customers, and then start taking five to six people a week for cover-ups, he said.
He doesn't consider this a limited project, but instead an effort to help better people over the long term.
"We commit plenty of mistakes," he told CNN. "Our parents didn't treat us bad when we made mistakes growing up, they helped us fix it. It's about accountability and finding a way to fix it, and helping these people grow."