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Welding skills learned on the inside give Cook Co. inmates hope for work on the outside

Cook Co. inmates get life lessons and job skills to use on the outside
Cook Co. inmates get life lessons and job skills to use on the outside 02:23

CHICAGO (CBS) — At the Cook County Department of Corrections, change is being created through new opportunities for detainees to learn new skills, including a welding class about a week from graduation.

"Looking forward to the future now and trying to make my next step my best step."

Inside a trailer at the Cook County Department of Corrections, Jacque Gunn is one of seven detainees who've been provided an opportunity.

"It feels like a blessing, like for real," said inmate Raymond Wright.

A blessing that takes time to craft.

"When we get into the weld booth, we set up. You want to tact your first weld together with a spot weld. And we weld inside the groove after that. I'm getting there. I'm still practicing," Gunn said. 

Both men are ready to put their skills to the test once released. 

"I don't have to worry about what I'm going to do for a job or employment when I get out of here. I'm learning a skilled trade. It feels good," Wright said. 

They're starting with the basics, which means mistakes will be made. That's where the instructors from First Institute Training and Management come in.

"And I'm hoping that I take this process and keep going with it; I hope it don't stop here," Wright said.   

The five-week program ends next week, and there will be a graduation ceremony that family or friends can attend. The newly trained welders will then take their certification test in hopes of finding a job.

"Lee is a great instructor, and if he sees you need a little help, a little tweaking here and there, he is there to help you and pinpoint you in the right direction," Gunn said. 

While Lee points them in one direction, Dr. Keyuana Muhammad, the Assistant Executive Director of Programs at the Cook County Department of Corrections, helps them carve out a path with the many programs available. 

"It takes a lot to be in this environment and commit to something. There are many distractions here. You are worried about your case. And so to lock in and be committed to something really showed you have a growth mindset and you are committed to turning your life around," Muhammad said. 

That's the hope as they prepare for a new life outside this facility.

"Just another step further, another milestone in life, another accomplishment," Gunn said. 

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