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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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Justice Reform

Today, one out of every five Americans requires a professional license to perform their job, while 1 in 3 American adults have a criminal record. Vocations requiring a professional license, such as plumbers, repairmen, or electrical inspectors, were previously incredibly difficult for those with a criminal history to pursue, since the required wait time to be able to acquire these licenses was a mandatory five years if they had committed a crime against another person. This year, Delaware made strides towards easing the struggles these individuals face when applying for professional licenses. Delaware State News reported that Governor John Carney’s signed legislation greatly decreases the waiting period to just three years. 

Questions have arisen over whether previously incarcerated individuals with felony sexual assaults will have access to licenses as massage therapists. The licensing board, which accepts or denies applications for professional licenses, fully intends to retain its discretion and will deny licenses for the massage and bodywork industry to those with such crimes.

Melissa Minor-Brown, a State Representative, has supported the modifications to the criminal justice system in regards to licensing that she believes are crucial in reducing recidivism. “To believe that people can actually have second chances is so important. This legislation breaks down barriers and creates a pathway to sustainability,” she stated. The bills are essential to providing those with criminal records the possibility of good jobs with high paying wages. Employment has been proven to be a very prominent factor in reducing recidivism, and these criminal justice reforms are backed by state Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “Part of our job as policymakers and elected leaders is to help ensure that people who come out of prison stay out of prison. That’s good criminal justice policy, it’s good economic policy, and it’s a very good moral policy.”

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Recidivism

The Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE), has adopted a structured strategy to help prisoners find reliable employment when they are released from prison. The inmates are evaluated on their ability to perform particular vocations, and then provide the proper skills and training under the Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) framework. The WSQ is a national credential system that trains, assesses, develops, and certifies skills and abilities for the workforce.

In order to better prepare inmates for a real job setting when they are released, they are put through simulated job scenarios. When the inmates complete their training, they decide which jobs they would like to apply for, and are later interviewed by prospective employers. In special cases, employment offers may be provided before they are even released. In order to make these job prospects possible, SCORE coordinates with employers to guarantee that inmates, once released, are provided fair wages and partake in progressive work practices. SCORE provides assistance to former offenders for up to 12 months during the early phase of finding employment. SCORE coordinates with employers and case workers during this period to ensure that these recently released individuals are provided the necessary assistance to effectively re-integrate into their communities and become reliable members of the workforce.

Relationships with family members are also critical to the effectiveness of re-integrating into society. Research has shown that those with healthy familial bonds are less likely to recidivate. With the help of community partners, the Singapore Prison Service conducts programs that assist inmates with forming stronger bonds and relationships with their families. Former inmates who are motivated and hopeful are better prepared to rebuild their life and re-integrate into society. With employment prospects, stronger family bonds, and ties to their community, they have a much higher chance of succeeding in their new lives.

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Recidivism

Incarceration can lead to a lifetime sentence of unemployment for many that are released from prison. Difficulty in finding employment is a strong cause of recidivism, and without a stable income and a sense of purpose and responsibility, 68 percent of those released from Delaware prisons are re-arrested within three years of release. Ajit Mathew George, the founder of Second Chances Farms, has hope for a future where Delaware inmates will have careers as entrepreneurs waiting for them when they’re released. He intends to use abandoned warehouses and empty office spaces near the former inmates and turn them into farming space. His plan to reduce recidivism in his state is to hire 10-15 workers to help in his farms for every 10,000 square foot of farming space. Each worker will be paid $15 an hour during a six to twelve-month apprenticeship period. These farms are extremely effective as they are grown in LED-lit hydroponic towers and do not require soil, pesticides, or even natural sunlight. His goal is to develop a new industry and produce local organic food on a year-round basis, while also improving the livelihood of released inmates and in turn reducing recidivism.

This ingenious concept won George the honor of having the “Best Idea” at the Pete DuPont Freedom Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware competition in early December of 2018. He hopes to open Second Chances Farm No. 1 in Wilmington by September. His Second Chances Farm was awarded a start-up grant of $175,000 after the Reinventing Delaware event by the Welfare Foundation, which supports non-profits focused on social welfare causes in Delaware and southern Chester County.

George believes that the vertical farms allow up to 100 times more production per square foot than traditional farms. Second Chances Farms will be able to produce crops from harvest to grocery store shelves within 24 hours, compared to the lengthy week long and thousand-mile trek for field-grown produce. The inmates participating in these vertical farms have served their time and now can be meaningfully engaged in their community through agriculture. The chance to be able to run a high-tech hydroponic farm is a great way for these individuals to learn a growing enterprise.

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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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