Changing a Face: Bryon Widner



By User Moqui on en.wikipedia [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Waid and Colin Lowther tell Bryon Widner's story. After committing violent acts, he changed his life. But he also had to change his face.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

The tattoos covered Bryon Widner’s face. The marks were thick, black and permanent. They were also a warning. They told everyone that Widner was dangerous. And Widner had been a dangerous man. For many years, he was a gang member, and a violent criminal. But now, Widner was different. His life had changed. But his tattoos remained. Today’s Spotlight is on Bryon Widner and his attempts to change his life.

Voice 2 

Bryon Widner was just 14 years old when he joined a gang. The group accepted Widner. It became a new family for him. Like all gangs, it was a violent criminal group. It was also racist. This gang thought that the value of people could be seen by their race – their ethnic background and skin colour. They were called skinheads, because they cut off all their hair. They attacked people who were not white. They also spread hate filled opinions and ideas.

Voice 1 

Widner accepted these beliefs. He took part in attacks on many people. At the age of 27, he even led a gang. He was an angry, dangerous man. And he showed this on his face and body. He covered his face and body in tattoos. The tattoos showed white supremacist symbols, weapons, and blood. Letters on his fingers spelled the word “hate”.

Voice 2 

But as Widner got older, his life changed. He got married. His wife, Julie, had children already. Widner loved being a father. Soon, they had a child together. Widner wanted to be a good father. He did not want his children to live in an angry, violent situation. His opinions about other races had also changed. So he and Julie decided to leave the gang. Together they let go of their hate filled life.

Voice 1 

This was not easy. The gang did not want him to leave. Gang members threatened Widner and his family. Many times, the family had to leave their home and hide.

Voice 2 

But something else made leaving the gang more difficult. Widner’s tattoos marked him as a gang member - even after he left the gang. When normal people saw him, they saw frightening, racist images. Widner could not get a job. In stores and restaurants, people treated him badly. His family loved him. But no one else wanted to get involved with him.

Voice 1 

Widner needed to get rid of the tattoos. But it is difficult to remove tattoos, especially from the face. It also costs a lot of money. He began to feel desperate, worried, and sad. He even considered using acid on his face. This chemical would burn his skin. It would damage his face - but it would remove the tattoos.

Voice 2 

Instead, Widner asked for help from a surprising place: the Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization works against hate groups, like the groups that Widner had led. Workers there find information about hate groups. Then they gather it together and publish it. This way, hate groups cannot work secretly. The organization also works with the legal system, like the police and law courts. Leaders at the SPLC knew about Bryon Widner. They had written about his crimes. But now, they saw a changed man.

Voice 1 

Joseph Roy is the main investigator for the SPLC. He meets many people who have left hate groups. Sometimes they are trying to trick the SPLC. At other times, they are not serious - they return to their groups and gangs after a short time. At first, Roy did not trust Widner. He told the Associated Press,

Voice 3  

“It is very rare for us to meet a reformed racist skinhead. No one was more violent and more well known than Bryon Widner.”

Voice 2 

Roy and the Widners spent several weeks together. They told Roy details about the gangs they had been in. They gave Roy a lot of information. Slowly, Roy began to trust them. He saw that they felt shame and regret about their past. And he saw that they wanted to change their lives. He asked the Widners to tell their story at SPLC events for police. This way, more people would learn how to stop violent hate groups. But Roy also made a promise. He said that he would help to remove the tattoos.

Voice 1 

The SPLC found a doctor who could remove the tattoos. They also found someone to pay for the treatment. It would cost $35,000. Widner agreed have the treatment to change his face. He also wanted to change the way he thought and felt. He agreed to return to school, and get emotional help from a trained counsellor. He wanted the change on the outside AND inside of himself to be permanent.

Voice 2 

Dr. Bruce Shack agreed to do the surgery. He is an expert on plastic surgery. This is the medical area that deals with people’s appearances. Dr. Shack had worked with many people. But he was shocked when he saw Widner’s tattoos. There were so many, and they covered so much of Widner’s face. But Shack still wanted to help Widner.

Voice 1 

The treatments were not easy. Shack used a laser to break up the dark ink on Widner’s skin. Each treatment burned Widner’s face, like a burn from the sun. It was much more painful than getting the tattoos. After each treatment, Widner’s face swelled and got larger. He got large painful blisters, filled with fluid. At first, they planned to do just seven or eight treatments. But it took 25 treatments. After 16 months, and a lot of pain, Widner’s face was clear. He and Julie were free to start again.

Voice 2 

This time, and the pain, were important to Widner. It was like he was paying something for his crimes. He told the SPLC that he deeply regrets the hurt he caused. He removed the tattoos from his face, but he cannot remove this hurt.

Voice 1 

But Widner has found a way to help other people to reject hate and racism. He shares his story about his life of violence. He told filmmaker Bill Brummel,

Voice 4 

“I want to prevent other young people from making the same mistakes I did. I want to prevent other families from going through the same terrible situations as my family. Then maybe I can redeem myself.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Christy VanArragon. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called ‘Changing a Face: Bryon Widner’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Have you ever had to make a big change in your life? What made you change?

Comments


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rosyantigone
said on November 15, 2012

i think in life, everyone also makes mistake, maybe its is verry small but maybe that mistakes make a big hurt. But more important is you have to realize mistakes, stand up bravely ,overcome pain and change yourselt to build a better life

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Dela
said on November 15, 2012

We all make mistakes but in spite of it each of us can change his life himself, his feeling and mind. The big motivation and helping some good people is necessary to realize these changes.Thanks for a great story!

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Rain Bows
said on November 16, 2012

It’s been a long time spotlight!!
This is a great example of life.
Of course we can, who said no?
Thanks for the program,

Manta-Ecuador.

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caatuwa
said on February 17, 2014

really is very good topic thanks alote

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VietNamHoChiMinh
said on February 18, 2014

Thanks for the program
thanks Liz Waid :)

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Dela
said on February 18, 2014

Widner was successful to change his life entirely, however, there are not many people willing to make changes in their life to get better. Widner’s family gave him the first important inspiration to realize reforming his violent life, thinking, racist opinions and leaving a gang too. If he had not acted like this, he would have lost everything, it is sure.
Thanks for excellent story!

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Honneur
said on December 27, 2018

Like a lot of people, I used drink alcohol and smoke tobacco for a large time in my life. One day, in 1996, I thought about the damage I was bringing to my healthy and decided to stop alcohol and tobacco. And so I did. I did not drink or smoke any more. It was the most wonderful victory in my life because I was strong more than a lot of people I know who was not sufficiently determined to stop the vice.