Tattoo Joe Gaerte 1976—2006

Tattoo Joe spent most of his life in custody. When he finished his sentence, he asked for a one-way ticket to Seattle because he fell in love with a magazine picture of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. His social worker said, “I still struggle to figure out the meaning of all of this, why I had such a brief time to work with him. Maybe all this has meaning–to remember those who otherwise would be forgotten because our communities don’t see the value of them and the blessings they bring.”

From family photos, donated by Joe’s mother, Tina Gaerte:


Tattoo Joe Gaerte’s Leaf was installed at the Seattle Justice Center on October 18, 2011. If you have stories or memories to share about Joe please post a comment.

rose & cross

Drawing from Joe Gaerte’s album

15 Responses to “Tattoo Joe Gaerte: 1976—2006”

  • TINA GAERTE says:

    JOE WAS MY 1ST BORN,HOW HAPPY HE MADE ME. HE WAS A VERY LOVING PERSON, AND VERY TALENTED. ANYONE THAT EVER SAW HIS DRAWINGS AGREED, THAT HE COULD OF WENT FAR ON HIS TALENT. HE LOVED SEATTLE, AND HIS SOCIAL WORKER WAS GREAT. JOE TALKED ABOUT HIM AND HOW MUCH HE WAS HELPING HIM WHAT A WONDERFUL PERSON.I WOULD JUST LIKE EVERYONE TO KNOW HOW SPECIAL HE WAS, AND HOW MUCH HE IS LOVED AND MISSED.

  • Christi Rose says:

    Joe is my brother and to be honest I struggle to find the words to write. When we were younger he was always tricking me into something, wether it be smoking a cigar when I was three and him lighting my baby dolls hair on fire (which by the way is how we got caught caused I screamed and cried) Or when he wanted to be like the older guys and try to tow something. And that resulted in the car hood coming off. Another thing that sticks out when we were younger is when he put the ceramic skull head in my windoe with a light under it and scaring me to death. Oh how he laughed when he got in a good prank. A laugh and smile that I miss. As we got older we didn’t get much time together since he was always gone. But I never stopped loving him and worrying about him. One of the last times he came home he gave me my first tattoo. He drew it himself and it was one in memory of our Grandmother. I cherish it to this day. I remember getting to talk to him before that tragic Christmas Day in 2006. He sounded so hopeful and was just so excited about some of the things that was going to be happening in his life. The talent that this young man posessed was phenomenal. His art is permanently on my body. Not just with the one he did but also another one he drew and I had doen in memory of him. Not only could he draw but he also wrote some fantastic poetry. I rememeber him telling me the few times he got to be around my first daughter about how she made him laugh. And I know he is up there watching her become an amazing artist herself! I wish he could’ve been here to meet the other children that have come into our family, But we will always carry him with us and remember the talent the laughter and the smile!!! Joe we love you and miss you!!!

    • Brian says:

      I Have Not Seen Joe Or Talked To Him In 2o Years. I Had Thought About Him Tho. He Was My Best Friend. Joe, Chris, & I Were Known As The 3 Musketeers. We Were Inseparable. But I Had To Move Away. I Had Talked To Joe A Few Years Later. But Couldn’t Get The Time For A Visit And Lost Contact. I Often Wondered About Joe How He Was And If He Was Okay. Today I Found Out He Had Passed Away. Now I Wonder If I Tried Harder To Find Him Could I Have Done Anything To Help Him. Even Tho It Has Been A Long Time He Is Like A Brother To Me And I Miss Him Just Wish I Had Made The Time For A Visit All I Can Say Is Rest In Peace Brother Joe

  • I am one of the women of WHEEL and the Homeless Remembrance site, and one of the administrators of this website. I had the honor of posting the photos of Joe that his mother gave us when she and his father came to the ceremony when we laid his Leaf. Scanning, preparing, uploading and laying out those photos gave me much time to ponder them, and it was a very emotional time. Seeing Joe as a beloved child in his family home gave me a new appreciation, all over again, of how precious each one of us is. Our society has to stop throwing way all these precious people.

    Tina, thank you for these photos. Thank you for Joe.

    • Tina Gaerte says:

      I NEVER THANKED YOU FOR REMEMBERING JOE WITH THE LEAF, IT MEANS ALOT TO US.
      I LOVE TO GET ON THIS SITE AND LOOK AT THE PICTURES OF HIM. DID ANYONE EVER
      TELL THE GROUP HOW WONDERFUL YOU ARE AND WHAT A GREAT JOB YOU ARE DOING. SORRY IT TOOK SO LONG TO THANK EVERYONE. HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON TINA

      • LeafAdmin says:

        Tina, thank YOU so much for your kind words. We are so grateful that you’ve connected to us, and we have taken great meaning from the photos and stories of Joe’s life you’ve shared with us. We hope to see you soon, too!

    • betsy mccray says:

      No through away children of God. Our family Loved Joe. and we will see him in heaven. He loved so much. And I watched him struggle but he found Jesus and would wear a rosary my mother gave him. I respected Joe for his honesty. He never lied to this family. And struggled and fought that demon in a bottle very hard. But Jesus loved him as much a Joe loved all of us. You are at rest now with Jesus and Grandma Loraine. I will surely see you on the other side. Thank you Joe for your friendship. Love always from your family in Batesville Indiana.

  • Tommy Thomas says:

    As sad as it is to say… I just found out Joe had passed by doing an Internet search for him through the Indiana Department of Corrections ‘Inmate Locator’ site. It shows that he was discharged shortly after I was freed in 2005. Another search after that one provided me this heartbreaking news. Needless to say, I am in shock.
    I met Joe in an Pendleton, Indiana prison cellblock, sometime around 2001-2002. At that time, he was known as “Peckerwoods Joe”. Automatically, we hit it off and paired up and became close friends. Alot of nights were spent: talking, tattooing, drinking hooch, and enjoying some of God’s good grass & watching TV in our cell. One thing about Joe & I was the fact that we were ‘misunderstood’ by alot of people – free spirits, If you will? Most cons thought we were adults with ADD and gave us our space. Our brothers & close inmate friends just knew this was how we were wired from the Creator’s
    Masterplan. Him & I, we were just naturally always up to something!
    After my release, and all the fake promises from inmates to ‘hook-up on the streets’ after we get released… No one, not a single con would ever find me – except Joe Gaerte. I was living in Bedford, Indiana after my release. I got a letter from Joe telling me he was getting released and a phone number to call him at the first week he got out. I spoke with Joe and was in such dire need of my friend that I told him to find a ride and come stay with me at my apartment in town. The day Joe showed up, I was in my IOP Drug Class when all of the sudden a face from outside starting looking inside through the window. Yes, it was my friend! I asked my counselor and group if they wanted to meet him (I had told many stories of Joe); yes, they did… In comes Joe, bottle of Crown in-hand – marching into my drug/alcohol group. There was no resistance from anybody when I asked if I could leave an hour early. Anyhow, that first night in Bedford was most certainly like the movie ‘The Hangover’…
    Not only did we party that night; we made every citizen on that block well aware of our presence as well!
    A few days later we packed some bags and headed for Indy for the running of the Indianapolis 500. The night before the race we were all over the West Side. Next thing I know I’m waking up in a field race morning, and Joe is nowhere to be found? I decide to walk a couple miles to my Father’s house. On my way, I find Joe passed out on a bench in front of Speedway Social Club (and a nice shiner on his eye). I guess we were drinking and dancing in their with old childhood friends of mine earlier that night before. After about 40 minutes, I was able to get Joe to wake up. We stumbled to my Father’s house and my folks met Joe for the first time – and many, many pictures were taken this day with me, Joe, dad & my step-mom. We had breakfast, said goodbye to my folks and jumped the fence and snuck into the racetrack. Joe had never been to the 500 before, and was totally blown away by it. After the race was over we split up and Joe went back to southern Indiana for about a month.
    Then one day my telephone rang… It was Joe! I told him I was leaving for Denver, Colorado the next day to follow ‘Widespread Panic’ (a hippie band that took over after Jerry Garcia’s death) – Joe immediately was wanting to join me. After slinging some ink all night, and selling an assault rifle, Joe had the money for the ticket and showed up at the bus station as my bus was leaving. St. Louis, Kansas, Denver, and all points in-between…
    I could go on and on… Him & I told our stories & adventures to many, and they were great times! It breaks my heart to know now that he is gone and that I couldn’t find him all these years – and it worried me so much. I loved this man as though he was my own family, and I will forever remember him and share our tales with my friends & children one day. I will end this now (rather abruptly) before I break down.
    I ask one thing: if you are family to Joe, please email me and get in contact with me. I have alot of really good pictures of Joe & I from all over the country. I would like to share them with you and make you copies. Take care, God bless all of y’all.
    And Joseph… I love you Brother, and I miss you so much. I’m content now not having to worry about where you are & if you’re okay? I will hopefully see you again one day my friend? Love & Respect Peckerwood!
    -Tommy Thomas

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      *I would really like some pictures of Joe. Me and him was on and off for 10 years and sadly my love wasn’t enough to save him. And please contact me

    • betsy mccray says:

      Joe was like my son he always called on mothers day. I will forever pray for Joe. My morther loved him also as did my family.He was baptised in Florida. And wrote a poem about The Blessed Mother. Worked with a priest cleaning up after the hurricane. We live in south eastern IN. Joe would always call, And We were the ones who took him and Tommy to the Indy 500. I was glad Joe was able to see the race. We also picked him up after the race. Tommy please get ahold of me. I have pictures also,and this was before the horns. I loved the tatoo on his shoulder of a friend he did a great job, and signed his work festus. Ihope this reaches you.

    • betsy mccray says:

      call my cell Lisa, remember you came to my home to see Joe. 812 212 7294

  • Lisa Mitchell says:

    I love Joe w/my whole heart I thought my love would save him/me from our destinies. I know he was my soul mate. People can deny that all that they what too. I know what what was in his heart and mine. And I am So sorry my love couldn’t save him But me and him will meet again in our next lives..

  • betsy mccray says:

    P.s. My daughter brought him home from the carnival they both worked for Burtons i believe.Tommy remember the Jello lol.

  • Adam L Gaerte says:

    As the years pass i find myself missing him more than others. Joe was my only brother and
    Though he spent alot of time in trouble and or
    Gone he lives in my heart and i will never
    Forget him or the times we did get to share. I
    Wish so much that i could of been the person to help him make it through all of his struggles, but unfortunately it dodnt work out this way. I hope someday to see his memorial up in seattle. Thank you for this
    rememberance. Joe is definitely loved and very missed

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