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Moving Mountains for change

Aug 04, 2015 09:12AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Tattoo Artist Luke Jensen

By Alisha Soeken

Sometimes change happens softly like the bending and opening of petals in the sun. Other times, like in the molding of character, it requires grit, painstaking work and patience. Good qualities of character are attributed easily to ecclesiastic leaders or humanitarian aid workers, but what of the less obvious: the homeless, the addicts, the man covered in tattoos? Luke Jensen, the 26-year-old co-owner of Aloha Salt Lake Tattoos in Murray and father of three, has his own story of painstaking change. 

“I grew up in a typical nineties family involved in a typical nineties divorce,” Jensen said. “I don’t know if that spawned into me acting up, but at a really young age I was very defiant.” 

Trouble started for Jensen early in school. He got into fights and was disobedient, which led to escalating trouble after school.

Jensen’s first arrest was at age 11. “I stole a lighter from Reams. I had money in my pocket, I didn’t need to steal it. Stupid,” Jensen said. “I lived in West Valley with my father and found kids there that acted like I did, so it was easy to ban together and go out and be bad. We were stealing stuff, getting weed, drinking, all kinds of reckless, non-thinking craziness, which lead obviously to criminal offenses.”

From the ages of 11 to 16, Jensen was more often than not incarcerated or in state custody.  

“The only time I wasn’t in trouble was when I was playing baseball. Ever since I was little I wanted to play pro baseball and I was very good at it. I definitely could have played collegiately,” he said. “I played in championship games with the Babe Ruth League of Taylorsville, but I lived a double life; after the game I would shower up, sneak out and get arrested.”

At age 16, barely old enough to drive a car, Jensen found out he was going to be a father. 

“After the birth of my baby girl a lot of things changed inside. I knew I had to let go of a lot of my fear and hate. I knew that the man I was was ugly and bad, and I wanted to change that so I could have some kind of purity inside to give her.”  But despite this inward decision, Jensen was still involved in selling drugs, burglaries, aggravated assaults, and was arrested many times. It got so bad that Jensen carried a gun and wore a bulletproof vest, believing someone would kill him. 

In 2006 at the age of 17, just following the birth of his baby girl, Jensen was sent to Decker Lake Youth Center, a medium security state prison in West Valley City. Soon after arriving he learned he would be a father again. Jensen served two years in Decker Lake. While there he graduated high school and was a motivational speaker. Jensen knew well his recidivism rate and was determined not to be like the majority that never left the system, yet despite his resolve after leaving Decker Lake, he got right back into his criminal life, which ultimately resulted in serving two years in the Utah State Prison.

Jensen missed the birth of his third child, along with the funerals of friends and family. “But,” Jensen said, “the best part of prison was that I was alone. I learned how to be alone and that I am the only one who can get me out of this situation; the things that I do in here are going to delegate exactly how I get out, when I get out, and what I’m going to be when I get out.” Jensen used those two years to make changes mentally; he read books, a lot of them. He read about religion and studied each individually. “When I study I can thrive,” Jensen said. “I can apply that knowledge.”

When Jensen got out of prison, he was 22 years old. “I was a kid with three kids of my own and nothing else. I was scared I was going to fall on my face.” But this time he didn’t.

After holding down a job for two years, Jensen apprenticed at a tattoo shop and then decided, three and a half years later, to open his own shop with friend Jon Poulson in Murray City. 

“Murray City helped us with the hiccups of getting permits, and community members helped us scrape together our shop,” Jensen said. 

With well over 50 tattoos covering his body, Jensen himself looks different. “I know I don’t fit the normal Utah look; I’m under a heavy amount of scrutiny, but it excites me. I bet if you speak to me, I will change your opinion. I open doors and I still believe in finding opportunities to help people. When I see a mom with five kids and bags full of groceries, I say, ‘Do you want me to help you? Sorry, I know I look like creepy and like I’m going to take all your groceries and kids, but can I help you?’ I love it when someone looks shocked but then says, ‘You’re not as bad as you look.’” 

When asked what would he say to his teenage self, Jensen looks surprised and remembers a letter he wrote just weeks before.

“Dear 16 year old, I envy you, the freedom, the excitement of youth and the power to be anything. You love with caution to the wind, but those things you love now will become a memory faster than you think. Don’t worry about him, her, they, them: be you. Build the strongest foundation you can, make mistakes, learn. In ten years no one will remember what you wore that one night, at that one party, that one time. Be happy, fall, struggle, remember, pick up and repeat. Don’t worry about being a flower now: they die fast and wilt away. Be the water that feeds the flower, be the sun that provides the light for the flower, be the wind that spreads its seeds. Do something, live it up, be deaf to the word stress and blind to the malicious scowl of normal; it goes fast, trust me.”  


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