The Chicago-based all-formats team of Michael Tarm, Charlie Arbogast and Teresa Crawford gained exclusive access to 12 inmates in the DuPage County Jail participating in a new gang-cessation program, a main feature of which is removing or covering the inmates’ gang tattoos to improve their chances of landing jobs on the outside.

Reporter Tarm had been tipped off about the program by a former state police spokesman. He spoke to jail officials for weeks, and along with photographer Arbogast and video journalist Crawford, received two days of largely unrestricted access to the inmates, including the pod where their cells are located and a new tattoo-removal wing.

When the main subject of the story, longtime Latin Kings enforcer Erik Eck, had two prominent gang tattoos covered, Arbogast and Crawford documented the process. And Tarm spoke to Eck via Zoom minutes after the first tattoo was covered, Eck describing his feelings before and after the procedure. The inmate opened up to the AP team, speaking with remarkable frankness about his gang life and about the real risk that the Latin Kings could seek retribution for daring to leave the gang.

AP was first to report on the novel program. Jail officials said that within hours of the exclusive package hitting the wires they were inundated with calls from local and even national media seeking to match the story. Chicago-area outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, used the AP work prominently.