Food service program graduates five
For the past four months, five inmates at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail have been part of an inaugural N2Work program to receive food service certification.
On Wednesday, four received certification certificates for completing the program, with a fifth person having been recently released from the jail, but also finishing the program.
“These five men have been dedicated and committed, and they have seen their way through,” said Lee Alexander, General Manager for Southeastern Corrections, and who supervises the jail’s kitchen staff.
He said he had a particular point of pride in helping the inmates through the class.
“I think the biggest thrill for me in teaching this inaugural class is to see the enjoyment and see the participation level, I mean, sky high,” Alexander said. “When I come in here at any time from 6 to 8:30 (p.m.), those guys are … ready to go. And there wasn’t one evening that I came in where I was disappointed by the level of enthusiasm that those guys had on display.”
The program allowed the inmates to learn the basics about food preparation, maintenance and management. They spent two nights per week for the past four months in a classroom setting, with the rest of their time receiving on-the-job training in the kitchen working alongside Aramark staff. There was a $400 course cost that Aramark absorbed for each inmate.
The inmates also had to take an exam from the National Restaurant Association to receive their certification, and they all passed.
“It’s a program that’s set up to help try to reduce recidivism,” Alexander said.
For their final assignment, they had to prepare a meal of their own choosing, with Alexander purchasing any necessary ingredients.
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” Alexander said.
Henifa Bullock, 38, said it meant a lot to him to complete the program, as he has been in and out of jail since he was 17 and hasn’t always been a model inmate while locked up.
“I really haven’t been accomplishing a lot of things,” Bullock said. “That’s the reason I keep revolving through these doors and these jails and prisons.”
He said that if he could achieve something positive inside jail, he could do the same when he gets out. Getting into the inmate trustee program, and then getting into this class, he said, has had a profound impact on him. Not only did he learn about food service, preparation and management, it also taught him better manners and how to serve people. He believes this will help him be productive in society after he is released.
“This is the best program, the trustee program as well as being in this class, has really opened the door for me for life,” Bullock said. “It really let me know that I’ve got a chance, that I still have a chance out in society (and) that this is not the end of the road.”
WTRJ superintendent Col. William C. Smith said the participants could have decided to just do their time until their release, but they opted to do something to better themselves instead.
“You could have chosen to come in here and sit in the pod every day and not do anything, and the results would be kind of the same. You’d get out,” Smith said. “But you’ve chosen to do something better than that.”
Smith said the inmates who went through the program are role models for other inmates.
“I don’t know if I could have (done) what you did,” Smith said. “This is not a positive environment. This is a very difficult environment to learn something, retain something, and you’ve done that, so if you can do that in here, you can go much further when you get out of here.”
Anthony Fleming, 56, who said he had been in food service “for a number of years” before he landed in prison, is one of the five inmates who completed the program. He said finishing the program is one of his crowning achievements and that he hopes to own his own restaurant someday.
“After completion, it really gives you a sense of self-worth to know that there are better things out there than what life offers in general,” Fleming said.
Jesse Munday, 25, said the program was a good experience in learning how to handle food. He said he was a cook at a restaurant in the Outer Banks and hopes to be a cook again and perhaps own a restaurant after he is released.
“The certificate is good for five years, so I’ll be able to use it to work at another establishment when I get out of here and get back on my feet, to be able to make some money and make a career out of it if I want to,” Munday said.
For Wendell Whitfield, 57, he had been in food service before he came to jail, but he didn’t know anywhere near as much as the program has taught him.
“Everything’s not lost in this year that I’ve done (because) I came out with something that I didn’t have,” Whitfield said, adding that “the year that I’ve been here won’t have been a total waste.”
Alexander said other inmates now view the ones who completed the program as a step above the others. He plans to continue the program, with men participating in the spring and women in the fall.
“Probably my biggest enjoyment out of this is seeing them complete something,” Alexander said. “Because I don’t know what they completed before, or if they ever completed anything in their lives. But they saw this all the way through.”