“I wasn’t on any great mission for the white race. I was just a thug.” -Bryon Widner

Bryon Widner gets frequent migraines and has to stay out of the sun. He calls it "a small price to pay for being human again."

Before he fell in love and married his wife, Julie, Bryon Widner had once devoted his life, his heart and his body to the cause of white supremacy. A pillar in the neo-Nazi movement, Widner was one of the most violent and well-known skinheads in the nation, and he had the tattoos to prove it. A blood-soaked razor, swastikas, and the letters “HATE” stamped across his knuckles, were but a few of the outrageous messages his body was broadcasting to the world.

After marrying in 2006, Widner and his wife (who had also been an active white supremacist) changed their minds about the movement and began trying to build a life free of hatred. Widner left behind his old ties, and looked forward to a future in which his children could look at him and be proud.

Unfortunately, and, understandably, Widner could find few people willing to look past his hate-filled tattoos to determine if the man behind them really did want to change his life.

Unable to afford the expensive removal procedure, Bryon began experimenting with homemade concoctions to try to burn the tattoos from his face and body.

He reached the point, he said, where “I was totally prepared to douse my face in acid.”

In desperation, Julie reached out to a black man whom white supremacists consider their sworn enemy.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins runs an anti-hate group called One People’s Project based in Philadelphia. The 43-year-old activist posts the names and addresses of white supremacists on his website, and alerts people to their activities. Jenkins has been the target of death threats and vicious hate speech from various white hate organizations around the country.

The Widners had sought advice from the right man. Jenkins’ introduced them to T.J. Leyden, a former neo-Nazi who is now an activist for tolerance.

Leyden knows better than most the barriers faced by those seeking to turn their backs on their neo-Nazi roots to begin anew.

Leyden ultimately led the Widners to the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala.  Through the help of the SPLC an anonymous donor paid the estimated $35,000 it cost to free Bryon from his prison of ink. The donor’s conditions were that Widner get his GED, get counseling and pursue either a college education or a trade — he was happy to comply. kathleen cross

Read more at The Salt Lake Tribune.