Deandreas McCanton, 21, is one of Chicagoland Prison Outreach’s success stories. McCanton went from the streets, to prison, to boot camp. There he met Corey Buchanan, an ex-offender himself who now works for Prison Outreach as a boot camp chaplain.
After his release, McCanton attended the carpentry program at Outreach Christian School, run by Prison Outreach. He is now employed as a carpenter and affiliated with a church. McCanton says, “The carpentry school taught me more about God. It opened my eyes to see that life is more than out on the streets. Now I got a trade, a skill. Now I go to work every day.”
In the Cook County Jail, with a population of about 11,000 prisoners, Outreach Christian School teaches reading, math, and Bible study. It also offers worship services, discipleship classes, and individual counseling.
Dennis Raatjes, a member of Orland Park (Ill.) Christian Reformed Church and director of the school, said, “After many years of ministry within the confines of the jail, God led us to become increasingly involved in ministry for this population following incarceration. That’s where the rubber truly meets the road. Not working or working for minimum wage rarely serves as an inducement toward a better lifestyle.”
The school provides those released from prison with after-care in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. Ex-offenders who attend a 14-week carpentry apprenticeship preparation program learn the necessary math, practice carpentry skills, and attend mandatory Bible study. Those wishing to pursue a union apprenticeship attend nine weeks of further training.
About 30 graduates are now employed as carpenters. Completion of the program usually results in placement. The school plans to add courses in job readiness, welding, and auto mechanics.
Several Christian Reformed churches in the Chicago area financially support the program and provide volunteers.