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Success Stories

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.

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Success Stories

The EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant, founded in 2007, believes that every human being has a right to a fair and equal future, regardless of their past.  EDWINS is well known not only for its delectable classic french dining and delicious desserts, but also for the lasting effect it has made on the lives of those recently released from incarceration in Ohio. The Washington PostFood and WineForbesThe City Journal, the Steve Harvey Show and CNN have all featured EDWINS. EDWINS hopes to reduce the risk of these individuals returning to prison by providing them with the training necessary to pursue and succeed in a career in the very lucrative culinary field. Every person who receives training at EDWINS, short for “education wins”, has a criminal history and has spent time in prison.  

Brandon Chrostowski, the leader of this growing restaurant empire, has had his own unfortunate brush with the justice system. When he was 18 years old, he was caught dealing drugs. Rather than being sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison, he was put on probation and received training at a kitchen in his hometown of Detroit. Over the years, he has received training at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in many of the top French restaurants in both New York and Paris. He was constantly reminded of the second chance at life he had when he received his lenient sentence, and has since developed a plan to provide the same chance for others who were not so lucky – to open the best French restaurant in the world, in Cleveland, and improve the lives of all who work there. “I just looked at where the worst high school graduation rate was, and Cleveland, Ohio, happened to be the number two city in the country where people in high school didn’t graduate,”Brandon said. “So I figured that’s a place that it’s needed.”

“We give formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary their long-term success. Our mission is three-fold: to teach a skilled and in-demand trade in the culinary arts, empower willing minds through passion for hospitality management, and prepare students for a successful transition home.”

The students participate in classes on various topics, such as champagne tasting and opening, and the proper use of knives. Only 30% of students make it through the rigorous training process, as classes go from noon until midnight. Not only are students trained on fundamental culinary skills, they are also provided aid in acquiring many basic needs to succeed in society outside of incarceration, such as finding employment, medical care, clothing, job coaching, legal services, literacy programs, access to free housing, and more.

According to the DOJ, the rate that inmates return to prison is up to 83% within 10 years from their release. EDWINS was established with the goal to reduce recidivism, and it has made astonishing strides to do so. Of the 350 graduates, Chrostowski stated that the recidivism rate is only 1.4%. Nearly 100 students graduate from EDWINS a year, and the graduates have acquired jobs in Cleveland’s best restaurants after completing the program.

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Success Stories

Between 60%-75% of ex-offenders remain unemployed one year after their release from prison. Employment is essential in keeping someone motivated to continue their rehabilitation and become a successful and functioning member of society. Without the income from employment, the chance of returning to prison is incredibly high. A non-profit by the name of 2 Fish Home Renovations hopes to improve these chances for formerly incarcerated young adults through the renovation of houses. 

The non-profit provides possibilities for jobs and work growth for formerly imprisoned young adults in need of a second chance at life. 2 Fish has been renovating homes for two-and-a-half years, and has successfully renovated nine homes so far. They have helped people like Frank Grazier, who has been calling 2 Fish a game-changer for those in jail. “Once they give ’em a chance [to] start, to actually build things and feel good about themselves, do something about themselves, then, man…they’re on their way,” said Grazier in an interview with WDEL News. Grazier, who after the death of his wife and son, was incarcerated for three years due to a conviction from driving under the influence , could not explain how grateful he was for a fresh start. “This is, this is, like, the best opportunity ever,” he exclaimed.

2 Fish purchases distressed houses at huge discounts and refurbishes them with crews of recently released young adults. The men undergo training from experienced foremen to grow their knowledge and understanding of the skills necessary to flip houses, such as painting, decking, tiling, remodeling, cleaning, and landscaping. The knowledge gained by the prior inmates prepare them for the possibility of a prosperous career in the home remodeling and construction industry. 

Chuck Wallace, a member of 2 Fish, believes that the men who participate in this non-profit are extremely grateful for the chance to make something of themselves. “You’re just giving them an opportunity that they’ve never even had before, and, I mean, the guys we have here are grabbing the bull by the horns, and they love the opportunity,” said Wallace.

These former inmates are given a fantastic opportunity to stay productive, gain skills, and improve their lives while gaining knowledge that is essential for a successful future outside of prison. 

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Success Stories

Four large counties make up one Colorado Judicial District that has utilized TRACKTech’s comprehensive platform to enhance public safety and improve lives through TRACKphoneLite (TpL). This intuitive app is installed on the mobile device of an offender which then provides a multitude of useful features, such as location tracking, video conferencing, behavioral health assessments, rehabilitative support and compliance monitoring.

The District has been using TRACKphoneLite primarily for relieving case load, streamlining check-ins and saving their Supervising Officers valuable time. The check-In feature has been recognized as being essential in saving time for both the program member and the supervising officer. “I believe it is saving time on curfew checks. I am able to send a location request and move on to the next one. I have one client that is on TRACKtech in lieu of GPS – she checks in frequently.”

Curfew visits are very common, and when an officer has many checks in a night, it can become exhausting, time consuming and even dangerous. “For me I’d love to use it for all my [program members] as it would save me a lot of time and keep me off the streets at night doing curfew checks. I want it for my entire caseload.”

It can be extremely problematic to keep track of an offender who travels regularly and TRACKphoneLite has made that so much easier. “I love the check in feature for people that I have had difficulty locating during home visits/employment checks and for those that move frequently or travel for work frequently. I feel like it is a great benefit to supervision.”

Video Conferencing has shown to be one of the most beneficial features of TRACKphoneLite for the Judicial District, as it completely negates the need for the offender to visit the office for an appointment, especially if there are extenuating circumstances that make attending very difficult.  “I had one client who could not report for an appointment.  Rather than reschedule, we had him complete a full appointment via video conference.  The appointment was very productive.  The client was engaged, and it saved time with rescheduling another appointment.  It was also helpful for the client who struggled with transportation.”

TRACKphoneLite is especially effective for juveniles, as using a cell phone has become almost essential to their lives. Going through the criminal justice system is not an easy process, and this application helps to ease them through it in a more familiar and comfortable way. “Yes, there is a benefit to the client. I think not only from the juvenile’s perspective but also from the parents and other people residing in the house because it’s less intrusive than late night home visits. I believe the juveniles like interacting on phones. Even with PO’s it’s more “natural” for them because this is just how they interact with people now. So, their demeanor is different on the video conferencing than in the office because I feel they are more relaxed. I think the check-ins are easy for them as well. It doesn’t interfere with whatever they are doing at that time as it’s a simple click.”

Supervising officers for these juveniles are seeing the benefit of this application as well. It has saved them countless hours and made them feel much more comfortable checking in on their members. “If it was my entire caseload it would do wonders. I could simply click my entire caseload in seconds where curfews can take hours and sometimes multiple evenings. The time period that it takes aside, the safety portion can’t be ignored. Bad things usually happen at night, having to do less evening trips because of this would mean less opportunities for ‘bad things’. Also, the video conferencing would be great for everyone. They don’t have a ride that day (which is a major thing with kids, since they can’t drive) no problem, just do it over video. They forget it (because kids don’t prioritize well) no problem – video conference. Having difficulty visiting them at home and can’t keep trying every week, no problem, just video conference.”

TRACKtech’s goal is to reduce recidivism rates and improve the lives of those in the criminal justice system, helping create functioning members of society. The TRACKphoneLite application is just one of many ways to increase success by accommodating to individual needs and lessening the workload of officers. Observe. Predict. Influence.

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Success Stories

In an uplifting article by the WPSD Local 6 news, a Vienna Correctional Center program by the name of Orange is the New Green, explains their efforts of preparing incarcerated people for life after prison while helping the community. It is open to inmates who have a high risk of recidivism or are veterans. During the first half of the 11-month program, prisoners complete a gardening course – including botany, fertilizer, hydroponics, irrigation systems and more.

“We take students through the University of Illinois Master Gardener curriculum. So, that takes us about six months to get through. There’s a lot of book work and a lot of lectures,” explained Nathan Ryder, Orange is the New Green’s lead instructor and coordinator. “We talk about everything from soil and how to have healthy soil out on your farm or in your garden plot, all the way up to how to grow different fruits and vegetables. We talk about lawn care and how to propagate grass. We really take them through a lot of different aspects of growing plants. It’s not just focused on flowers and vegetables.” Ryder states that once the inmates earn their master gardener certificates, they can transition into the business section of the program.

“For about six weeks, they learn marketplace literacy skills, basically how businesses and consumers interact with each other. Then, we take that, and they write their own business plans. So hopefully, if they get out of here and they want to be an entrepreneur, they want to employ themselves, they’ll already have that business plan written. And they can take it out in the real world and get financing for that,” said Ryder.

Many inmates are enjoying the program. Robert Parker says that it gives him a sense of achievement, and that he turned a bad situation into something positive while learning a new trade. He believes that the program really involves teamwork. They help each other repot plants or answer each other’s questions. “We’ve got a really good teacher, but it’s more like a community. It’s like a little brotherhood huddle.”

Philip McDowell, another inmate participating in the program, says he is excited to take what he’s learned in the program and apply it to a new job outside prison. “I want to give myself the most opportunity. In this instance, I think that by doing this I’ve learned several things, even about greenhouse operations, irrigation systems, and pesticide applicators. These are all the things that are incorporated into this class above and beyond just growing a particular plant,” said McDowell. He also agrees that the program involves teamwork, and really improves social skills. “It is some teamwork and how to get along with other people. Because obviously we’re not social being in here for so long. I’m just trying to give myself the biggest leg up to try to get something going on for myself.”

The Vienna Correctional Center partnered with Shawnee Resource Conservancy and Development and with the University of Illinois Extension to make this program possible. This is the second year for Orange is the New Green and they are thriving. Classes include about 40 inmates and they have plans to continue classes next year. Most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs the prisoners are growing will be delivered to the dietary department for food preparations at the prison. The rest is donated to local food pantries.

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Success Stories

On February 5th, Donald Trump held his State of the Union Address, and someone very special attended.  Edward Douglas, one of the first people to be released from prison after the enactment of the First Step Act, has benefited greatly from this new justice reform. After being incarcerated for a low-level drug offense he was delivered a life sentence 16 years ago in 2003. 


On January 10th, Douglas was released by a federal judge. He was one of many inmates who were doomed to serve decades for selling small quantities of crack. His children, who had been only toddlers and teenagers when he was incarcerated, are now 17 to 30 years old. Many of his children, some of whom he last saw on the morning he was convicted, drove to welcome him home. He never imagined he would see his family again. “They all came in at the same time, kids, grandkids, and they couldn’t all hug me at the same time, so they took their time crying.” Douglas remembered it as an experience he will take to his grave.


Edward Douglas, like many other inmates recently released, is ecstatic to get his life back on track. He immediately began rebuilding his life. He paid off old traffic fines, checked in with a probation officer, studied for his driver’s license and spent time with his family. He hopes to eventually work at his old job again. 


The story of Edward Douglas illuminates the profound malfeasance in our broken criminal justice system. Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike celebrated the First Step Act as a common-sense measure to reduce the punitive impact on nonviolent offenders. With reforms such as this, there is a real hope of giving a meaningful life back to those released from prison and their families.
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