Amid allegations of drug use, minors being tattooed and unsanitary conditions, Boss Ink, a tattoo shop that is not licensed by the state’s health department, is open for business across from Ozen High School. There has even been a complaint filed against Boss Ink that the health department has not investigated yet.
“If the health department isn’t doing anything about it, at least the police can do something about it,” said Juan Esparza, a veteran tattoo artist at Tattoos by Mundo who said he’s fed up with places like Boss Ink that are simply taking kids’ money and risking their health at the same time.
In what is one of the worst kept secrets among tattoo shop owners, artists and enthusiasts in Beaumont, Boss Ink has gained a city-wide reputation for its questionable practices, and perhaps even more alarming, the shoddy and potentially hazardous tattooing and piercing work that has left many legitimate tattoo shop owners around the city frustrated and disgusted.
“It’s really been frustrating, because they’re tattooing minors, and I know that for a fact,” said Bernadette Montgomery, who owns Elite Tattoo, and is proud of the fact that she’s been licensed and legit since 2003. “The problem is the health department, they won’t do anything. I’ve been (at this location) for six years, and the health department hasn’t come in one time. Not once! I had a friend call me a while back and tell me the health department was in town. I said, ‘So?’”
Montgomery said what adds to her aggravation is the fact that most of these minors getting poorly done tattoos simply don’t know any better and just want the tattoos regardless of quality.
According to the Drugs and Medical Devices Group, a division of the Texas Health and Human Services department that oversees licensing of tattoo and piercings shop, companies “under our rule, are supposed to be licensed, and meet minimum standards and responsibilities under the facility code.”
Christine Mann, assistant press officer for state health services, said that an anonymous complaint had been filed against Boss Ink last month and the department was going to investigate the matter further, but had not done so yet. In light of new photo evidence provided to The Examiner, the department filed another complaint against Boss Ink after reviewing pictures indicating alleged drug use, alcohol use, patrons climbing what appears to be a stripper pole inside the shop and a small child painting on the wall with tattoo ink.
Attempts to reach the owner of Boss Ink for this story were unsuccessful.
*Editor's Note: The owner of Boss Ink, Shanon Nisby, has agreed to speak with The Examiner.*
According to information provided by Mann, Boss Ink’s infractions would fall under a Level III offense, and are described as “violations that are significant and, if not corrected, could threaten the public health and safety.”
Failure to correct those violations leads to a penalty that ranges from $2000-$3000.
A public information request was sent to the Health Services Department to discover the nature of the complaint in August, however that information had not been received as of press time. Beaumont Police were also contacted and an officer indicated they knew of no criminal activity going on inside of Boss Ink.
Some secretarial workers at Ozen, who directed all media inquiries to the BISD Administrative office, said they had not heard of anything illegal going on at Boss Ink. However, when a student came into the secretary’s office and was asked about whether she had any tattoos, the young girl said she had none but was going to get one. When asked if she was getting one at Boss Ink, she smiled and said reluctantly, “yes, my cousin’s going to sign for it,” admitting she was underage.
When the secretary asked why kids didn’t talk about what was going on at Boss Ink, the student replied, “snitches end up in ditches,” and added that most students at Ozen knew they could get tattoos at Boss Ink if they have the money.
“Where they’re set up at, across from Ozen, they knew what they were doing,” Esparza said, “they know those kids got money, and that’s all they want. And the way they tattoo, it’s like pre-meditated aggravated assault.”
Esparza, along with Joe Andrada, who both work at Tattoos by Mundo, owned by Mundo Trevino, and his wife, Aubrey, said they noticed in February that young kids were coming in and asking about tattoo prices. After the kids would find out a price, they’d ask if they could get the tattoo at Mundo’s shop, as long as someone signed for it was at least 18 years old. However, in Texas, it is illegal to for someone under the age of 18 to get a tattoo unless the person is getting a cover-up tattoo for something that is considered obscene, gang-related or drug-related. A parent’s consent is still needed in such an instance.
Therefore, the folks at Mundo’s said no, and often times, Andrada said it was not uncommon for that same person to say, “well, I’m going to Boss and I’m going to have (insert family member’s name) sign for me.”
“We heard that a lot,” said Andrada, who estimates that close to 40 people have come to Mundo’s since the summer to either inquire about tattoo prices to get elsewhere, or to ask about fixing work that had been done at Boss Ink.
Andrada said in July, a 16-year-old black male who attended Central High School came in with what he and Esparza called a very poorly done tattoo that covered his chest. Both men said the tattoo itself was rough to the touch, a sign of sloppy tattooing, and the young man’s nipple had been tattooed over as part of the design, an absolute no-no.
Alisha Queen, an aspiring tattoo artist, apprenticed at Boss Ink for three months last year. The then-18-year-old Queen thought she was getting a crash course in learning how to be a tattoo artist but instead spent most of her time cleaning, baby-sitting and drawing while learning next to nothing about actually tattooing. In fact, Queen said she witnessed drug use, as well as minors getting tattooed – including her then 16-year-old boyfriend, and finally had enough after one of the regular patrons got drunk and bit her on her shoulder.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Queen said.
Some of her drawings were used without permission, although some she voluntarily gave up for others to use. She said the prevailing theme was more about getting people’s money than it was about the artwork, which bothered Queen. “At first, I wanted to be around it,” she said of the opportunity to work and learn at the tattoo shop. But the time she spent there became too anxious for her, and even tattooing – she was pressed into action herself after only three weeks to work on her first tattoo – a “BMT” – in cursive letters on a young man’s forearm, was too much.
“They kept asking me to tattoo people, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, I wasn’t ready,” she said.
The man she tattooed, the only person she tattooed while at Boss Ink, was drunk, but Queen was told to tattoo the man anyway, who was a friend of another tattoo artist at the shop.
“I just became miserable to the point where I didn’t even want to go,” Queen said.
She added there were times when people coming in for piercings at the shop would have to go elsewhere to get the jewelry and come back, another huge no-no because of sanitary and health reasons. One person even picked up piercing jewelry at a nearby Valero Convenience store.
Queen said while there were some good artists at Boss Ink, quality was not something that was stressed as much as simply making money was. While her apprenticeship experience wasn’t the most enlightening education in the world, it did teach her one thing.
“I know how not to do things at a tattoo shop,” she said.
Moving forward, the folks at Tattoos by Mundo have started a petition to bring to the city to make them aware of what’s going on with unlicensed tattoo shops and the negative effect places like Boss Ink are having on reputable tattoo shops.
Andrada, who at 24 is still a youngster in the tattoo game, said he’s worked hard and learned under some good tattoo artists who stand for good work and good art. He said that’s something’s that’s been missing and places like Boss Ink only perpetuate the problem.
Both Andrada and Esparza say there’s more to tattooing than just slapping ink on someone, that there’s also a very important medical component to it as well.
“You’re putting a needle with ink into someone’s skin,” Esparza said matter-of-factly, stressing the importance of a professional tattoo shop with the appropriate tools, that is clean, sterile, and clearly too often overlooked – licensed by the health department.
“Places like Boss have to stop,” said Esparza, 47, “and this is something that could affect a lot of people. The state could come in and decide they’re going to close all the tattoo shops. I’ve supported my kids doing this, I pay my bills doing this. It’s time to make the community aware of what’s going on.”