LT Woods tattooed some of his friends when he was 16 with homemade equipment. He said he had no idea what he was doing.
“I messed up a bunch of my friends and so I decided I would probably never tattoo ever again,” Woods said.
2018 marks Woods’s 18th year of professional tattooing.
Woods said he didn’t think he could have any other career because of the tattoos on his face and hands. Inked into each side of Woods’s face are marijuana leaves.
Those two tattoos, Woods said, symbolize a dark time in his life. He spent three years in the Boonville, Mo. Correctional Center(BCC) for possession of one-fourth of a pound of marijuana. Woods said he had two choices in life back then: work in construction or sell drugs. He chose drugs.
From 1993 through 1996, Woods only saw the boundaries within BCC. Woods said he became better at selling drugs when he was released.
Woods recognized if he went back to prison, it could have been for good.
“I was at a level that if I got caught again I probably would never see the light of day,” Woods said.
Woods said he thought people with money were people who sold drugs. That looked good to Woods, so he continued to sell drugs after prison.
Woods owned Rites of Passage, a tattoo shop in Yuma, Ariz., after his time in prison. He was still selling drugs at that point in his life.
After selling the shop to work for a friend, Woods said he realized tattooing could get him out of his drug addiction.
Woods attended an interview weekend for a tattoo shop as an aspiring artist. The owner paid him after the weekend ended, but did not offer him a job at the shop.
Woods said he insisted to the man that he would do anything to tattoo professionally. The man offered Woods a 30 percent cut to train him to become a tattoo artist. Woods took the offer.
Chelsea Holloway, owner of Alchemy Tattoo Collective, said Woods came a long way as a tattoo artist.
“I can tell that he’s worked on himself a lot,” Holloway said. “And I think your ability to see yourself is one of the most valuable things a person can have.”
Holloway agreed to have Woods as a tattoo artist for the shop until Woods can find property in St. Louis to start his own tattoo shop. Woods said he hoped to buy a property within the next year.
In 2015, Woods launched the first Tattoo the Lou Convention in St. Louis. Tattoo the Lou is a convention focused on bringing artists outside of the area to St. Louis. This gives people the opportunity to get a tattoo from an artist who they might not encounter otherwise.
Woods said his fiancée, Laura Tromben, is a huge help in making these conventions possible. Woods and Tromben met six years ago at a tattoo shop in Nashville, Tenn. Tromben said Woods was upfront about his felony and how he wanted to change his life.
Tromben said she suggested applying for the Tattoo the Lou convention license herself because of Woods’s criminal record.
“This is something I gotta do,” Woods said he told Tromben.
The state accepted Woods’s application despite his felony record.
“I think that he also is a fantastic example of how you can change your life,” Tromben said.
Woods said he became sober eight years ago after battling his addiction for around two decades.
Woods and Tromben recently added another show to their list, the St. Louis Classic Tattoo Expo. The show will take place Nov. 16 through 18 this year. The next Tattoo the Lou show will be next May.