Article reposted from the Chicago Tribune: DuPage County Jail program offers tattoo-removal service for inmates – Chicago Tribune
Under penalty of a beating or death, Erik Eck pledged at age 13 to adhere to the Latin Kings’ first rule: “Once a King, always a King.” Tattoos that bedeck his entire body express his fealty forever to one of the largest gangs in the U.S.
Now 36, the longtime Latin King enforcer is trying to leave anyway. He is seeking to scrub his past by erasing his gang tattoos through a new gang-cessation and jobs program he and 11 other inmates signed up for at the DuPage County Jail in west suburban Wheaton.
A dozen inmates are the first enrolled in the largely privately funded program at the jail. For their safety, they’re isolated from the jail’s 500 other inmates, half of whom are in gangs.
Eck, jailed on burglary charges, earned the nickname “Hollywood” on the street for his swagger. But nightmares jarred him awake for days before he recently walked into the jail’s new tattoo removal wing.
“This life is all I’ve ever known,” Eck said about agonizing over his decision to deface the tattoos that have been central to his identity for 20 years. “But it’s for the better.”
He added: “I feel like the change has officially begun.”
One goal is to land the inmates jobs in horticulture, welding and other fields they’re learning, said the program’s civilian director and chief architect, Michael Beary. He said there’s booming interest among businesses scrambling to address COVID-19-driven labor shortages.
Jobs training was available previously, but the gang and tattoo emphasis was added this year.
“I used to beg businesses to hire these guys. Now they say, ‘As long as they show up for work, we don’t care what they did,’ ” said Beary, a longtime business owner and executive director of the nonprofit JUST of DuPage, founded by a Roman Catholic nun to develop reentry programs for inmates.
The inmates aren’t promised jobs or reduced sentences. But if they graduate, they do get help searching for work and relocating away from their gangs. A letter from the sheriff touts their participation.
To graduate, participants must have their gang tattoos removed or covered with other tats. It’s proof, said DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, they’re serious about forsaking their old lives.
“It’s a point of no return,” he said. “It’s a commitment to themselves — and to us, that we aren’t wasting our time.”
yesterday, I did my first piece for the redemption tattoo program at the DuPage County Jail, a program for covering up gang related tattoos. it was an awesome experience; they are extremely grateful and I will be working with them more in the future. – Nick Perri