News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 24, 2012

Inmates cookin’ up something for when they get out of prison

CARLISLE — Monday’s lunch special at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility featured root beer floats, fettucini, salad and bread sticks — made by nine offenders who have completed a 78-week food services program.

Those nine are the prison’s first graduates of the Aramark-coordinated food service Workmate class. They now have job skills that could benefit them when released from prison in the future.

“Doing this was something I found positive,” offender Danjo Graziano on Monday at the graduation ceremony in the prison chapel. “I can actually use this rather than sit around.”

Graziano and the eight others in the program now have five-year certifications for the  ServSafe program, which includes a National Restaurant Association test. They are also certified as apprentices by the Department of Labor.

By preparing three meals per day for the 2,100 people housed at the prison near Carlisle in Sullivan County, in a year’s time, the nine offenders will have prepared more than 2.25 million meals.

Those meals include casseroles, hamburgers and other breakfast, lunch and dinner food, in addition to the fresh favorites program that allows offenders to order pizza and other food through a commissary-type program. The newly certified kitchen team will also prepare the fresh favorites.

  “The food service industry needs experienced, well-trained professionals, which the courses help provide,” said Lisa Bock, Wabash Aramark food service director.

The classes, taught by assistant food service director Jason English, take students through kitchen basics such as hygiene, equipment and sanitation. Those students scoring 75 percent or better on a test advance to phase two, which is the retail basics of how to run a business. Those offenders learned about customer services, operations and marketing for the business.

The third segment of the class is the ServSafe exam, which Aramark’s Melissa Hess said is a $145 value, and not easy to pass. The national average score on the ServSafe exam is 82 percent, she said, and 75 percent is a passing grade. Two of the WVCF offenders got 96 percent on their two-hour tests, while the group as a whole averaged 88 percent.

Prison Superintendent Richard Brown said he is not surprised by the high scores of the WVCF group.

“It says a lot about you guys,” Brown said.

Graziano said he enjoyed cooking at home before he went to WVCF, and he has now learned to cook large quantities of food at one time.

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking,” he said. “When I came here, I didn’t have nothing better to do than get a job, so I decided to get in the program.

“I look forward to being certified with the state. Hopefully, a time will come when I can actually use this,” Graziano said.

His favorite meal to cook for fellow offenders is spaghetti. The secret to getting the pasta right is to let the sauce simmer for a while.

“You can’t just hurry and serve it up,” he said.

Being in the program has been a challenge for many of the participants.

English said the program started about five years ago, but it lacked structure and it was dropped. However, he was put in charge of it, and by setting goals and a timeline, the offenders worked their way through to success.

“If you know anything about the kitchen, you know they don’t last too long in there,” he said some of the offenders who have tried working in food service.

Graziano agreed that the program has not always been easy.

“There were times I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said. But he is encouraged by the positive comments from fellow inmates.

“I’ve actually had guys come from other facilities and say they can’t believe how good the food is here,” he said.

Bock said that future employers will be impressed by the skills learned by the offenders. Those who won’t be leaving the prison for several years will also have the opportunity to mentor other men in the program.

Graziano is one of those who will be mentoring the next group of wanna-be chefs.

“When you see your co-workers and bosses taking it seriously,” he said, “it gives me the incentive to take this seriously.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

 

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