Success Stories

Restaurants Redefine the Lives of Released Inmates

Life after incarceration can be terrifying. Providing for families and acquiring necessities is extremely difficult without the proper resources, especially with a criminal history looming over your head. 76% of formerly incarcerated people believe the search for employment after being released is “very difficult or nearly impossible,” according to a study by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. After being released from incarceration, two-thirds are unemployed or underemployed, even after five years. Some very courageous and generous individuals have dedicated their lives to easing this burden, and provide valuable skills and experience to jump start the lives of these returning citizens through the culinary arts.

Drive Change has been moving towards improving the lives of troubled youth since 2014. Jordyn Lexton founded the New York City based nonprofit that hires formerly incarcerated youth and teaches them how to properly operate a food truck. They provide assistance with developing the necessary skills to retain a promising job in the culinary industry, while also offering year long paid fellowships to those ages 17 to 25. “We teach transferable skills, and social media, marketing, money management, and hospitality,” Lexton described. “Then we teach the actual application of the roles and responsibilities on the truck,” Lexton stated to Pix 11. “We believe that by having this really positive interaction at our truck, we might actually help to dispel some of the preconceived notions that people have about what is means to be formerly incarcerated.”

Café Momentum, a restaurant and culinary training facility based in Dallas, improves the lives of adolescents through a positive environment and educating at-risk youth on the extensive knowledge of culinary skills, job and life-skill training, and mentoring and support. Since June 2011, every month eight boys from the culinary program in the Youth Village work alongside a list of prominent Dallas chefs who teach them every aspect of a functioning restaurant, such as prep work, cooking, serving meals, and waiting tables. While providing knowledge in the culinary field, Café Momentum also assists these young individuals with preparing them for reintegrating into society in a safe and comfortable environment. Their goal is to teach adolescents that they no longer have to partake in the life of violence and crime that they have always known. Café Momentum provides a 12-month paid internship to individuals being released from juvenile detention. During this program, members are assigned case managers, who work with them closely to ensure they have a firm grasp of how to thrive outside of incarceration. They are taught parenting classes, financial literacy, career exploration, and are provided educational assistance. They also receive aid for issues that may be plaguing them as products of their criminal history, such as anger management, recovery from trauma, lack of parental figures, and abandonment. Upon completion of this 12-month program, successful participants are provided the opportunity to pursue a job with one of the community partners. These struggling youth, who would have most likely returned to a life of crime or toiled in unreliable employment circumstances, can now have a fulfilling career, save for their futures, and have a fresh start on the rest of their lives.

EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant, which we previously blogged about, is a fine french dining restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, that employs previously incarcerated individuals with the goal to reduce their risk of returning to prison by providing them with the training necessary to pursue and succeed in a career in the culinary field.

Providing employment in the culinary field for those who are recently released from incarceration is extremely effective in jump starting peoples futures, because these individuals are able to thrive in an environment where they can succeed purely on dedication and hard work, rather than needing years of training or degrees.