HOLLY Horton lies on the table and barely winces as the tattoo artist painstakingly etches an orchid design on her side.
Although it looks like a pretty floral this is no ordinary tattoo – it’s a keepsake to mark the day Holly shot two men as they attempted to steal her car at gunpoint.
And the tattoo parlour – housed in a jail cell and run by a former police officer – is also unique.
Prison Break, in Houston, Texas, was set up to give police and fire officers a safe place to have tattoos and 95 per cent of its clientele work in the emergency services.
In new series Hero Ink, which airs on Crime+Investigation from tonight, founder BK Klef explains that, as a police officer for 25 years, he felt vulnerable to attack while getting a tattoo.
He would worry about someone he’d arrested being in the shop – or even being the artist inking him.
Five years ago he set up Prison Break, with walls lined with police badges and memorabilia and individual “cells” for the tattoo artists, themselves all former cops and marines.
Holly is one of the brave customers who shared their stories while going under the needle.
They also included Chuck – shot in an ambush that nearly killed his partner – and Matthew, who weeps as he remembers the police dog who saved his life.
‘I knew I had to shoot them before they shot me’
Holly, from Katy, Texas, was just six months into her training when she was faced with a life or death attack.
It was 6.30am on February 1, 2006 and the rookie officer, then 22, was in her civilian clothes and starting her Jeep when she was ambushed.
“Two guys walked up on either side of my car,” she recalls. “One had pantyhose over his head, the gun in one hand and duct tape in the other.
“There’s no reason that anyone’s going to have these items other than to hurt me.”
Knowing that if they discovered she was a police officer, they would shoot her, she had to act fast.
“I knew I had to shoot them before they shot me,” she says, explaining her gun was in the back of the car. “I started climbing over, I grabbed my gun out of my purse, and just started firing.”
‘It doesn’t feel good to take a life’
In a hail of bullets, Holly killed one of the carjackers – 19-year-old Cordale Stubblefield – and seriously wounded the second, 19-year-old Christopher Yell before fleeing in terror.
Yell and another accomplice were later convicted of a residential burglary charge and sentenced to four years’ probation.
“It doesn’t feel good to take somebody’s life,” Holly tells the programme.
Partner left in induced coma after shootout
Arizona police officer Chuck Bridges, who is retiring after 26 years’ service, chooses a tattoo of his first badge, issued in 1992.
He wants to mark the night he got shot in an ambush that left his partner in a coma, with life-changing injuries.
In March 1999, Chuck and fellow officers John Schaper and Steve Smith were making an arrest in Tempe, Arizona, just after midnight, when a man opened fire on them.
Chuck was hit in the side and returned fire, but Chuck took a bullet just below his armoured vest.
“He was in an induced coma for a long time,” says Chuck. “I can’t tell you how many surgeries the guy’s probably had.
“John’s injuries were pretty extensive, but he’s doing great. Just shows you what a fighter he is.”
‘Hero dog took a bullet to save my life’
In episode two of the double bill, dog patrol officer Matthew Harger pays an emotional tribute to his canine partner Thor – who once saved his life by taking a bullet – by having his pawprint tattooed.
On the evening of August 13, 2010, Matthew and Thor – who he trained from six months – were called to a burglary, where the suspect was hiding inside.
Seeing movement in a bedroom he let Thor go, but heard a gunshot as the German Shepherd disappeared into the room.
Matthew found Thor with the man’s arm clenched in his jaw. With the suspect distracted, Matthew and his sergeant opened fire then pulled Thor away.
“I looked down – blood, all over. And when I looked at his chest, I could see two holes,” he recalls.
Thor was rushed to the vet where they discovered, to Matthew’s relief, that the bullet had gone into his chest, bounced off his ribs and exited the body, causing no damage to internal organs.
“Without a doubt, Thor saved our lives that night,” says Matthew.
Put to sleep in the back of a police car
Thor was back on the job two weeks later and went to live with Matthew’s family when he retired.
Choked Matthew described the day he lost his former partner and beloved pet, then 14, in 2014, after he had a stroke.
“I put him in the back of the car, and he just laid there. He hadn’t been in a police car for two years. But it almost seemed like it calmed him a little bit,” Matthew recalls of the trip to the vet,
“Everybody that was on duty that night met me at the vet, and they all lined up, said their farewells.
“The vet came out and just put him to sleep in the back of the patrol car.”
‘Gangster shootout cost me my leg’
Dennis Eddy’s tattoo – a weeping angel with the blue police flag holding eight blue roses – is an emotional tribute to eight fallen colleagues and a day that changed his life forever.
In February 2008, he was on an operation targeting gangs in Bakersfield, California, when he spotted East Side Crips leader Leon Anderson and gave chase.
As he pulled the trigger on his taser, Leon shot him.
“I just feel my chest explode. He fired a second shot. I feel it just rip right through my leg, and it knocked me down,” he says.
Dennis and another officer fired back, killing Anderson with six bullets, and Dennis remembers being furious he’d been injured – but not realising how bad things were.
“I felt like my head was in a washing machine,” he says. “I could feel my vision getting narrow, I could feel the pulsing of the blood in my leg.”
‘I told them to cut off my leg’
Dennis had been hit in a thigh artery and the injuries cut off blood supply to his foot, leaving it “pretty much dead”.
Doctors gave him the choice of saying some of his foot, meaning he wouldn’t be able to work, or amputation.
“I’m like, cut it off, then. I’m ready to go,” Dennis said.
Three months after the surgery, Dennis got his first prosthetic and, after 800 hours of rehab and ten months of “blood, sweat and tears” he was back on patrol in the department’s gang unit.
Hero Ink airs on Crime + Investigation from 10pm tonight