Experiencing positive change while imprisoned is possible, however, it takes a tremendous amount of drive, tenacity, and grit. Those who successfully stop engaging in destructive behaviours after their release eventually stop trying to escape and suppress their misery and instead dive headfirst into deepening their understanding of their trauma to turn their entire life around.
Owner of Seven Mirrors Tattoo Studio in Adelaide, Australia, Keegan Sweeney spent his entire school years being labelled as a “problem child.” Despite having a difficult upbringing, he found success as a businessman in adulthood, earning multiple six figures a year at Seven Mirrors.
However, during this time, his poor judgement led him to make a fateful and costly decision that severely damaged his reputation as a business owner. Now, Keegan helps tattoo artists in managing their emotions, transform their mindset, and grow their businesses as a certified and accredited Life Coach.
We met with Keegan to learn more about his inspiring story and how he came to find deep importance and meaning in the work he does today.
“Let’s deep dive into your journey. Where and how did it all begin?”
“It was evident I was different from other kids as soon as I started school at five years old. I found it very hard to be told what to do and to control my emotions. This was in the late 80s, so there wasn’t the understanding of these types of behaviours in kids as there is today. It wasn’t long before I was diagnosed with ADHD and taking Ritalin. Although this worked a little bit, I still felt out of control and remember constantly being labelled as a “problem child”.
As I grew up, my behaviour levelled out a bit, but the memories of being the odd one out stuck with me and I felt very insecure and doubted myself all the time. One day I started to sketch on a notepad that was left on the side in the kitchen, and before I knew it, hours had passed and I felt different; freer, you could say.
Then I realised that art allowed me to escape from my life and also manage to keep my attention, so I dove deep into creativity: writing, painting, sketching and graffiti. At the time, it was just something I used to cope with life, but I had no idea what I could do with it. I left school to get a job and left all my creative outlets behind me. I must have had over 60 different jobs, none of which I felt fit in, and I started to feel depressed and hopeless. I had no direction in life, and every opportunity I had turned into another dead end.”
“How did you go from being labelled a “problem child” and having no direction in life to then finding success as a business owner?”
“On a particularly miserable day, I tried to remember happier times in my life and realised that it was always when I was doing something creative. I knew I had to get back into it, so I started painting on some canvases and drawing at every chance I got; this gave me some self-confidence.
At this point, I had been getting tattooed quite a lot and took the biggest leap of faith in my life and took an apprenticeship in tattooing. I soon realised I had a natural talent, and it wasn’t long before I was recognised worldwide for my art, published in magazines, travelling the world and winning awards at conventions.
After 3 years, I took another leap of faith and opened my own studio. This particularly scared me because I knew I was good at art, but I had no clue about business. All the memories of being the problemed child kept surfacing and I would doubt myself and call myself a fool for even thinking I could own my own business – but I did it. I opened Seven Mirrors tattoo studio and to my disbelief, I discovered another talent: business! Within one year, I was making more money than I had ever earned in my life, and by the time the business matured, I was making multiple 6 figures a year and completely fully booked.
Regardless of the success, I’d be lying if I told you my past didn’t creep up on me from time to time, and there were times when the stress of the business would cause me to lose my temper or have a complete outburst and lose all control over my emotions.”
“Sounds like you still had a lot of unprocessed trauma. How did your inability to manage your stress and control your emotions affect you in your adult years?”
“Not long after opening Seven Mirrors, I met a girl on one of my tattoo trips. We were together for some years and we got engaged. Although things could feel a bit turbulent on the inside, on the outside, life couldn’t have looked any better; I had everything I wanted and more. After a few years of success, I let my ego take over and I ended up self-sabotaging a great relationship.
Not long after we split, I put on a bravado to mask how I was really feeling. I soon met a new partner and attracted exactly what I was putting out, and we both realised we had so much unresolved trauma that caused us to constantly clash. The relationship’s toxicity worsened, and in one of our heated arguments, I did something that changed my life forever. I punched her in the face.
This was the lowest point in my life. I had finally reached the point where I was completely out of control and I couldn’t even begin to explain to you the shame, remorse and disgust I have for myself for what I did. A picture of me was posted online, and within the hour, tens of thousands of people shared my photo, saying what a monster I was. The allegations doubled, then tripled, and just got way out of hand. My sponsors had dropped me, and almost everyone I knew in the tattoo world had abandoned me.”
“This must have been a pivotal turning point for you. What made you decide to turn your life around after imprisonment?”
“My reputation, life and career in tattooing were ruined overnight. Tattooing had become my identity. All my self-worth was attached to it, and now it was gone. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to feel pain; I didn’t want to feel anything; I just didn’t want to be here anymore. I had started drinking two bottles of wine a night and taking prescription medications to numb the pain. One night, I grabbed a handful of pills and downed them with the second bottle of red wine I was drinking, I got in my car and drove to a local beach. My plan was to wait for all the meds to kick in and get in the water, knowing I’d pass out, drown and die.
I woke up a few hours later, throwing up on the sand. I had passed out before I got to the water, and for some reason, thought about my family and how that would have impacted them. It was right here that I knew that something needed to change. I started by pleading guilty to assault and was sent to prison. I used my time in prison to reflect on what I wanted to change about myself. I trained twice a day, and would talk with other inmates and try to help them in any way I could. Helping them felt good, and it planted a seed that I knew deep down would turn into something much bigger.”
“It’s commonly said that prison can be a blessing in disguise for some, and sounds like that was definitely the case for you. What changes did you make in your life after your release?”
“On my release from prison, I was ready to make some radical changes. I had made a decision to ensure that I never lost control of my emotions again, and would never lay a finger on a woman or another human being for as long as I live. I immediately started working with a mental health coach and multiple psychologists, quit drinking, and was working out every day.
Slowly but surely, my confidence was coming back, I had shed my ego and was starting to feel better about myself. I thought back to the times when I had helped people in prison and how it made me feel. I also thought about how powerful the experiences I had whilst I was working with my coaches and psychologists and thought maybe I could make an attempt to settle the score I had with the universe and help other people.
I reached out to Lewis Raymond Taylor, who was also an ex-prisoner who turned his life around and is now an owner of a life coach training school. We talked and he connected with my story and could see I wanted to make massive changes and that my huge downfall was the catalyst for a new future of helping others – and made me an offer to mentor and coach me, as well as put me through this accredited life coaching training.”
“Tattooing and Life Coaching are two completely separate industries. After working with Lewis, how did you manage to merge the two?”
“Since the decision to work with Lewis, my life has changed beyond recognition. I got back into tattooing, and started to take interns in my tattoo studio to help people who were just like me, looking for a chance in life – and I became a qualified and accredited Life Coach. Through this intensive process I was able to process my childhood traumas and rewire my brain in a way that now serves me. I now see my difference to others as being unique, and I understand how to manage and regulate my emotions. I’ve become someone I never thought I could be. Things are now goods on the outside and on the inside.
After getting my first few clients, and helping them with their emotions and sharing the strategies I’d learned along my own journey, I started to have a real thing about who I wanted to help – then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I got a piece of paper and wrote down “I help tattooers manage their emotions, transform their mindset & build their business!”. Why? Because that is exactly what I had done for myself. I know how to keep the stress and frustration of a business at bay, I know how to transform a mindset so you can make any change you want, and I’ve had a thriving business from day one. It feels so good to help people just like me, and although I can’t go back on what I did, I am doing all I can to help other people like me to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else – and hey, if they can build their business and make more money in the process, that’s a double win for them, right?”
By applying the lessons he has learned throughout his life, Kegan is now confident in his ability to help those who are going through similar struggles to his own. Now, Keegan is back in the driver’s seat after taking full responsibility for himself and his actions, stating, “I don’t expect people to forgive me for what I did in the past, but something that is important to me is that I stand up and take responsibility for myself. I can only hope that people can see that I genuinely made a mistake that came from being a broken man that had lost all control over himself.”