Antonia Sarvis dismantled a pink ladies’ shaving razor and pressed the blade into her skin. She did this over and over.
The scars from a years-long internal battle that cover the arms and legs of sophomore psychology major Sarvis don’t bother her anymore, she said she embraces the reminder of what she survived.
“I had suffered abuse in my life. I didn’t really fit in at school, I got picked on a lot, there was a lot of family turmoil and I felt very isolated and I guess I was just trying – I don’t really know,” she said.
Jon Cottrell said he too is no stranger to the struggles that lead some to consider self-harm, which is why he organized the Semicolon Tattoo Project.
Zachary Kluckman performs a spoken word piece while getting his first tattoo - a semicolon - on his arm by Angelia Santistevan at King’s Kreation tattoo studio on Feb. 27.
Deep scars up and down Antonia Sarvis’ arms are a reminder of what she survived and the people she wants to help in the future.
The Semicolon Project is an annual event to raise awareness about suicide and self-harm, he said. Now in its second year, participating tattoo parlors offer semicolon tattoos to supporters, and then donate half of the money to Agora Crisis Center. The other half of the money goes to the tattoo artist, not the parlor, he said.
“The imagery is based around this idea that your life is a sentence. An author can end a sentence with a period, but they chose not to, they used a semicolon and carried on in the same vein, they joined clauses. They gave pause, but they carried on,” Cottrell said. “It’s a symbol of strength, it’s a symbol of pushing forward in the face of adversity.”
Spoken word artist Zachary Kluckman, recited an original poem about addiction while receiving his semicolon tattoo at an awareness event late last month. Kluckman has been sober for 14 years, but still vividly remembers struggling with his demons.
He said the semicolon project helps him to never forget the dark places he came from. He said he felt his experiences also help him connect to others going through similar tough times.
“Its been a really powerful tool to go in there and say, ‘Hey look, I get it.’ I come to you and say, ‘You know, I speak the language. I speak blood and fire and flame and bone, so let’s do this, lets be real.’ I’ve seen a lot of ugliness watching other people go through the fire,” Kluckman said.
Angelia Santistevan has been a licensed tattoo artist for five years and is one of the many volunteer artists for this event.
“This was a cause we were not fully aware of the first time it came through last year. I had heard of the Agora Crisis Center before the event, and I thought it was really good that the project benefitted it,” she said.
Santistevan said around 160 people showed up for last year’s event, and this year it has spread out to several shops around Albuquerque.
Jenn Brown, the outreach coordinator at Agora Crisis Center, said her life had been touched by suicide and that any project that brings the subject into the light is worth supporting. Brown said nationwide, 15 percent of graduate students and 18 percent of undergraduate students, considered attempting suicide at some time in their life.
The most striking feature of the Semicolon Project is that the tattoo makes a visual statement of support and a great conversation starter about self-harm and suicide, she said.
“Even when you’re looking at college campuses that have free or low cost mental health care, suicide is still an issue. We‘re constantly trying to look at and see why people aren’t reaching out. I think a lot it comes back to stigma, people still not knowing how to access the help,” she said.
Sarvis, who plans to counsel people who have self-harm urges after she graduates, said she had only recently heard of the Semicolon Project and thought it was a great way to show support to people struggling with suicidal feelings. She said she had been afraid to ask for help and hopes that this project will make others feel brave.
“I have a lot of people when they do see my scars sometimes become alarmed. A lot of them will say a lot of insensitive things and they can be kind of hurtful. It’s really good to know that there is an organization out there showing support and awareness for these sorts of issues,” she said.
She said she hopes the project helps others to understand how to help people with thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
“A lot of times people are ashamed to talk about them or let people know they have had problems and still are,” she said. “I think it’s really helpful to have someone you can trust and someone you can tell hey, I’m feeling suicidal, or I’m feeling like I don’t belong here. Someone you can tell that to and they won’t immediately just freak out on you. Someone who will hear you out and listen and keep an eye out for you without making you feel like you’re wrong for feeling that way.”
Semicolon Tattoo Project
The following tattoo parlors will offer $30 semicolon tattoos on Saturday, March 15, with half the proceeds going to aid Agora:
117 7th St. N.W.
Por Vida Tattoo
1014 Central Ave. S.W.
Stay Gold Tattoo
123 Yale Blvd. S.E.
Ascension Body Modification
3600 Central Ave. S.E.
Archetype Demographics Studio
529 Adams St. N.E.
2737 San Mateo Blvd. N.E.
9800 Montgomery Blvd. N.E.
Blue Jay Tattoo
1605 Golf Course Rd. S.E. #A, Rio Rancho