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Artists tattoo semicolons for Crisis Center of Tampa Bay

Tattoo artist Clay Montgomery of Largo prepares to give Tom Armstrong, 64, his first tattoo, a semicolon.
Published Jul. 27, 2015

BRANDON

When she turned 60 last year, Jill Armstrong teased her husband by saying she would get a tattoo. • One year later, she heard about Project Semicolon, where people were getting semicolon tattoos to symbolize suicide and mental health awareness. Having known a number of people who'd committed suicide, Armstrong said, the timing seemed serendipitous. • "I said to my husband, 'This is perfect. This is God telling us something.' "

Jill and her husband Tom, 64, who live in St. Petersburg, got their first tattoos Sunday at Atomic Tattoos in Westfield Brandon mall, which offered semicolon tattoos for a charity event. All proceeds from the $40 tattoos went to Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, which deals with suicide prevention, among other causes.

According to its website, Project Semicolon is a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to those struggling with suicide, depression, self-injury and addiction. It started when founder Amy Bleuel got a semicolon tattoo to honor her father, who had committed suicide. The semicolon represents "when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to," where the "author is you and the sentence is your life."

Although Project Semicolon was started two years ago, it has recently gained in popularity thanks to people posting photos of their semicolon tattoos on social media.

Alvin Brinson, the manager of Atomic Tattoos, said one of the tattoo artists there had done a semicolon tattoo and posted it on social media, where it went viral. They then decided to do a charity event and chose Crisis Center for Tampa Bay as the beneficiary.

He said that the store was swarmed Sunday with people, and there was a line out the door at 10 a.m., an hour before the mall opened.

"It's been chaos," Brinson said.

Some got the semicolon tattoos as a symbol of solidarity with those struggling with suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. Kortney Cornett, 23, of Tampa said she works at a mental hospital and wanted to get a semicolon tattoo to show patients that they're important to her.

"They actually show you're not there for a job, but that you care," she said.

Others, like Mecca Davis, 17, of Tampa said they were struggling with those issues directly. She got the semicolon tattooed on the back of her neck to honor someone close to her who'd committed suicide, and to represent her own challenges with depression.

"To show you can still be strong no matter what," Davis said.

Beverly Phillips, 72, of Lithia came with her daughter, Heidi Schmitz, and got her first tattoo, a semicolon on her wrist.

Schmitz, 36, said she heard about Project Semicolon on Facebook and she and her mother waited to get the tattoos until Sunday, where the proceeds would go to charity. Phillips said her husband and a granddaughter both committed suicide, so the subject was particularly personal for her.

"I feel such an importance in my heart for (the topic)," she said.

Besides commemorating family members who'd passed away, Schmitz said the importance of Project Semicolon was letting those struggling with suicidal thoughts know they're not alone, and that others care about them.

"If I have it, maybe it'll give someone the courage to talk about it," Schmitz said.

Contact Jimmy Geurts at jgeurts@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3402. Follow @JimmyGeurts.

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