Derek “Ink Slinger” Hoskins started out as a kid with a stolen tattoo gun, practicing with it in his parents' kitchen.
These days he's a licensed artist at CR Ink in downtown Columbia, preparing to compete at a tattoo convention.
But his life journey is far from conventional. It involves drug dealing, a fatal car accident, prison time and an acceptance of personal accountability for his past transgressions.
At 13, he practiced tattooing himself and his friends.
“My dad even let me throw a little bit of color in one of his pieces he had that kind of faded out," Haskins recalled. "He had even sent a couple of people to me that he knew.”
By 16, Hoskins' skills were good enough to earn him some money. Even so, his tattooing work was mainly about getting experience.
“I didn’t care about the money," Hoskins said. "The tattooing was kinda like my release to get away from everything that was going wrong in my life.”
At the same time he found tattooing, Hoskins said, he also found drugs. He started smoking cannabis at 13, and eventually found K2, a synthetic cannabinoid.
Then one day in high school, a new kid moved to town.
“Lane was kind of like the troubled kid. He could fight really good. He liked to get high, and I liked to do all those same things. … I’d never had a kid in my school that was the exact same as me,” Hoskins said.
The two of them moved on from using narcotics to selling them. Together, they founded a gang: Small Town White Boys. Hoskins would give new recruits their “patch” — a tattoo symbolizing membership. Eventually they were distributing across the state.
This led Hoskins to use more, eventually graduating to methamphetamine.
“I’d been through a couple rehabs for drug addiction. Every time I got out of rehab, I would play this 'fake it to make it' thing," Hoskins recalls. "My family would believe me and feel sorry for me, then as soon as I got out it was back to ... action.”
One night in 2015, Hoskins went to make a delivery.
“I was in that mindset of ‘I cannot stay awake no more no matter how much I do, but I need to make more money,'” Hoskins said. He was under the influence of methamphetamine and Fentanyl. He fell asleep behind the wheel, crossing the median and striking a vehicle head-on, killing the passenger in the other car.
He was charged with two counts of second degree assault and one count of possession of a controlled substance. Under a plea deal, he was sentenced to serve seven years concurrently on his charges.
“I felt like I deserved to go to prison. At the end of the day, I take full accountability for my actions," Hoskins said. "Nobody forced these drugs into my mouth. I did them on my own, but I did them because I was in pain."
Hoskins continued tattooing in prison, making it his “hustle." He would build tattoo guns out of personal CD players and make his ink by burning vegetable oil. He was released in 2020.
“I continued to realize that this ain't nobody else's fault but my own and that I needed to take accountability," Hoskins said.
He also credits prison with teaching him to be a better man, and for teaching him respect. He has a wife and three kids, spending his Thursdays watching his son's football games.
Hoskins became a certified tattoo artist when he got out.
The shop he works with has helped other convicts learn to become artists. It also hosts events for groups like the local LGBTQ community and is painting a mural to beautify the alley beside the shop.
Hoskins is working on a tattoo that he hopes to compete with at a tattoo artists convention. He hopes to get his name out there, and hopefully gain some recognition for his work.
“I specialize in this dark, evil, gory," he says. "That’s what I love to do. I can do any style, I’m versatile, but this right here is my true calling."
This microdocumentary was produced in the Photojournalism & Documentary I course taught by the Reynold's Journalism Institute's Director of Photography Lynden Steele.