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Training ex-offenders gives them second chance, opportunity

Friday, March 08, 2013

Experts and community members alike agree that a major component in stopping the violence is employment.

One of the barriers to getting a job for those most likely to offend is often a lack of training and education.

One organization is working to close that gap by giving young, non-violent, non-sexual offenders a path to a second chance.

There are no shortcuts in Darlene Rhines' carpentry class at the Chicagoland Prison Outreach. Do the math in your head, she says. You'll need that skill on the street.

"They want to come and do the sawing and the hammering cause that's a guy's thing. They like to hear motors and stuff running," Rhines said. "The math itself plays an intricate part in everything you do."

Her students are all inmates in the Cook County Sheriff's Boot Camp, now known as the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center. The name reflects a new focus.

"A lot of times in programming, it's just to keep guys busy and that's not what we're looking for," Steve Jones who works at the center said. "We want to concentrate on giving guys a trade, giving them a track in which they can go forth and be successful, have a way of making money."

Students say having a viable career path could set their lives on a new course.

"I know as long as I stay positive I'll stay out of trouble and I love building stuff," student Christopher Harris, 34, said. "I want to make furniture and all type of stuff. So I believe that this put me on the right path that I need to be on."

"They teach you self-motivation to keep you focused on what's really important," student Heriberto Ochoa, 24, said. "I got a goal, a realistic goal that I can put in use."

The program is run by a non-profit organization called Chicagoland Prison Outreach. It also offers a religious component to give the men spiritual guidance.

"We teach the Biblical basics of how to live," Rhines said. "We teach the Biblical basics about salvation and things and that starts to make them focus on the importance of life."

We're told that since it started in 2007, the carpentry training program has sent about 185 young men to the union to take the entry exam. They are boasting an 87% passing rate.

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