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Bishop Michael Carter, who turned his life around from crime to help others, dies

Updated: December 16, 2011 8:23AM

Bishop Michael Carter was laid to rest with a 21-gun salute the weekend before last at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in recognition of his service in the Navy during the Vietnam era.

Carter would have been the first to tell you there was a time after he got out of the Navy that it was far more likely he’d end up with 21 bullets lodged in his torso than fired into the air in his honor.

Back then Carter made his living as a stickup man on the streets of Chicago, his particular specialty being the robbing of drug dealers — an occupation for someone destined for an early violent death.

Instead, Carter died Oct. 29 of pancreatic cancer at age 63, an end that was by no means a picnic, but an honorable civilian’s death just the same for a man who not only turned around his own life but dedicated himself to helping others do the same.

I wrote a couple of columns about Carter in recent years after being introduced by one of his biggest fans, former Cook County Jail Warden C. Richard English.

English once thwarted an escape attempt at the jail by a teenage Carter — came close to shooting him by his own account — only decades later to arrange for Carter to preside over his granddaughter’s wedding.

English is a no-nonsense, head-busting, law-and-order type, but he also is a believer we have to do what we can to make it possible for criminals to redeem themselves if we really want to stop the killing in our neighborhoods.

And English says Carter earned his redemption.

“I don’t know anyone who did more for society than the Bishop did,” English said. “He’s given more to society than I have.”

Carter was in prison when he got religion — rediscovered it more to the point considering he’d been schooled as a boy at Holy Angels Elementary and Holy Cross High schools.

When he got out of prison at age 33 after three stints behind bars totaling nine years, he decided to follow in the footsteps of Mother Consuella York, whose ministry at the Cook County Jail made a breakthrough with him and many others.

Carter made it his own purpose to go into the jails and the prisons to tell his story.

Beyond that, he did everything he could to help the men once they were released — finding them a place to stay, counseling them through their dark moments and teaching them legitimate hustles to make money just as he had, such as going door-to-door to beauty shops to sell women’s apparel or selling Krispy Kreme donuts.

“He really loved the men, and he was trying to give them a sense of self-worth,” said his wife, Geri, who met him shortly after he got out of prison and no doubt kept him on the straight and narrow.

For a while, Carter operated a pair of privately financed halfway houses, and when necessary, took men into his own home to keep them from returning to a life of crime.

Along with Geri, Carter founded the Mighty God Tabernacle and a small private school, REACH Christian Academy, both now located at 74th and Michigan.

For all Carter’s work with ex-offenders, English believes it was his work with the school that may have been his biggest contribution to his community by helping young people steer a straight course.

Just one year ago, Carter hosted a memorial service for Mother York, who died in 1995 but remains an almost mythic figure in the ex-offender community.

One of the men I met there that night was Charles Edward Bey, once a prolific hit man for the Blackstone Rangers and El Rukn street gangs though never convicted of a single murder.

Along with Mother York, Carter was considered to be one of the most important influences in getting Bey out of the gang life — and to stop killing people.

Carter once intimated to me that he had counseled many men like Bey with murder in their backgrounds — though he was careful not to betray their confidences.

Michael Carter lost his way, found it again and made a difference with his life. Knowing him, he would only hope this little nod of recognition would help somebody else realize it’s not too late to find their own way.

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