December 25 2014 – Robert Fiumara
In Utah, a culinary program is teaching inmates how to cook and create a new path for their lives. Davis Technical College and Utah State Prison have teamed up to provide inmates with six vocational programs – culinary arts being one of the six. The program currently has 17 inmates enrolled and students must meet the same standards as those enrolled in the regular program. For students to participate in the program, they must qualify for financial assistance and pay for half of the program costs – Utah pays for the other half of the course. Students are required to complete 1,140 hours to be successful in the program.
Unless you pay attention, it’s hard to recognize the differences between a commercial kitchen and a commercial teaching kitchen that’s located inside of a prison. But in the inmate’s kitchen, the knives are secured to tables, students and faculty are required to go through a metal detector before entering or exiting the room, and all inmates wear uniforms with the words “UDC Inmate” across the back.
Most of the women enrolled into the program come into it with various skills. Some have a basic knowledge of culinary arts, having worked in restaurants or cooked for families, while others have very limited experience. Culinary instructor Monica Hobbs firmly believes that the investment into the inmates is making a world of difference into their lives. "As they progress through the program, they really gain confidence, especially when they get to share what they have made with others,” Hobbs said.
Earlier this year, inmates prepared a holiday dinner from scratch for prison employees. Instead of the usual prison fare, correctional officers and other staff were served gourmet items such as: herbed turkey, orange glazed ham, sweet potatoes with pecans, glazed carrots, green beans, roasted potatoes, ‘frog-eye’ salad with pineapples and marshmallows, and fresh-baked rolls. For dessert, inmates prepared Christmas cookies, truffles, and peppermint cheesecake bars.
The vocational program offers real-world training and skills necessary for inmates to obtain gainful employment after their release from prison. One of the inmates in the program, Tessa Mounts, hopes to obtain employment in a restaurant once she completes her sentence. After that, her dream is to own and operate her own restaurant or café, a dream that the Utah State Prison and Davis Technical College is helping her realize.
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