Inmates leaving gangs, stripping tats for jobs, better lives

  • DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, center, talks with inmates Erik Eck, left, Jay, right and Joe, who are participating in the jail's gang-cessation and jobs program, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in Wheaton, Ill. The program offers free gang-related tattoo covering or removal and includes classes on horticulture, welding and other trades. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Brett, left, a detainee at the DuPage County Jail, watches and learns as tattoo artist Tom Begley works on a tattoo for Jaime Marinez to cover a bullet hole scar that depicts the date and time of Marinez's father's death, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in Wheaton, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick stands for a portrait in his office at the county jail, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Wheaton, Ill. Mendrick partners with Michael Beary, civilian director and chief architect, who oversees the jail's new, novel gang-cessation and jobs program. The inmates aren't promised jobs or reduced sentences. But if they graduate, the sheriff writes a letter touting their participation. Help is also offered to relocate them away from their gangs. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Eck displays a new tattoo covering his former Latin Kings tattoo on Feb. 21 in Wheaton, Ill. (DuPage County Sheriff’s Office/via AP)

  • Erik Eck, a former member of the Latin Kings gang stands in the doorway of his cell at the DuPage County, Ill., Jail displaying the main tattoo that symbolizes his status with the gang on Feb. 3 in Wheaton, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Erik Eck, a former member of the Latin Kings gang stands in the doorway of his cell at the DuPage County, Ill., Jail displaying tattoos that symbolize his status with the gang, Feb. 3, in Wheaton, Ill. Under penalty of a beating or death, Eck pledged when he joined the Latin Kings in Chicago at 13 to adhere to the gang’s first rule: “Once a King, always a King.” Tattoos that cover his entire body express fealty forever to the gang, one of the nation’s largest. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

WHEATON, Ill. — 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.