From convicts to carpentering and construction, program helps train ex-inmates for work

His smile tells it all. Stretching from ear to ear, Ichard Oden was beaming with pride. 

And why shouldn't he? He's the gold standard of a new program that helps ex-inmates find work.

"You actually see what you work for, the money you made is what you worked for," Oden said. "It's what you earned with your own hands. Literally, with your own hands."

Usually his hands are wrapped around the tools he uses to at work. The product of a partnership between the Michigan Department of Corrections and the Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, Oden spent 20 years in prison for violent crimes he committed in the 90's. 

But that's in the past now. With eyes looking forward, he's not part of an apprenticeship program designed to integrate him back into the real world, where expectations of becoming a taxpaying, contributor of society is the norm.

"A lot of people in prison don't have a second chance and some of them will never get one, so to be given a second chance, to learn a trade and get out of prison and do something constructive with life instead of something destructive, it means everything," said Oden.   

Run out of the Vocational Village at Ionia and Jackson, prisoners can pick up a skill and give back to society. That is, after they've paid their debt back to it.

For one of the facilitators of the organization, there are few experiences so fulfilling. 

"We have phones all the time and video footage from carpenter unions of these guys on the job," said Jared Stuchell, of Vocational Village at the Parnall Correctional Facility. "Just to see someone successful that left prison and to get their first job opportunity and start crying; it's just awesome."

Many of the people that run the program and watch over their apprentices emphasize the 'second chance' element of their paths. Not everyone is so lucky.

"I could've went the wrong way," said Chris Dickerson of Manic Construction. "I could've been in the same spot as these other individuals so it really means a lot to give back to the community. Giving back to somebody who made a mistake and giving them a second chance."

Carpenters feel the same way.

"There's not a person out there that hasn't messed up somehow, so a second chance is a second chance," said Kevin Krieg, of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. "And it's what you make of it."

Oden said he was hired the Wednesday after he got out, and he's been working ever since. He wants others to know that his path is proof that anyone can find their way.

"I go to work every morning. Get there at seven o'clock. Seven o'clock to three o'clock. Punch in, punch out."

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