Food service training boosts Kentucky inmates’ job prospects

Published 11:31 am Saturday, February 12, 2022

As a 42-year-old father of two school-age children, Lamont Edmonds just wants to provide for himself and his family.

Like many other parents, he’s working toward that goal by learning a new trade.

For the past three months, Edmonds has learned about food preparation, food safety, meal presentation and restaurant management.

They’re the type of skills you’d expect to learn in a culinary school, but Edmonds and his classmates are learning in a different sort of institution.

He and his fellow students showed up for the classes and worked in the kitchen while wearing the orange jumpsuits issued to them by the Warren County Regional Jail.

Edmonds, who said “drugs, alcohol and hanging with the wrong people” earned him a stay in the jail, was one of five inmates to participate in the inaugural In2Work program provided at the jail by its food vendor, Aramark.

Four of them — Edmonds, Brian Kessinger, Kelve McDowell and Michael Melton — were recognized Feb. 8 for completing the program that they hope will lead to a smooth transition from incarceration to constructive lives.

“I’m just searching for a better life,” Edmonds said. “I want to take care of my family. I should be getting out this year, and I’d like to have a job immediately.”

That’s a goal for the inmates that is shared by Warren County Jailer Stephen Harmon, who has initiated other reentry programs to help prevent inmate recidivism.

“This is definitely an addition to our reentry services,” Harmon said. “The folks who completed the program did it for the right reasons.”

Harmon said the WCRJ is the first county jail in Kentucky to participate in the In2Work program that Aramark started in 2009 and has rolled out to 175 locations across 27 states.

Aramark, the food vendor at the Warren County jail since 2018, started the program as a way of reducing the cycle of recidivism.
Aramark Correctional Services Regional Vice President Bob Barr said: “The In2Work program is an opportunity to help build marketable job skills through food service and retail training.”

Participants can earn certification from the National Restaurant Association, inc

rease their chances of finding employment upon release and possibly earn scholarships for themselves and their dependents.
“We provide a service to people who are incarcerated,” said Nicole McVaugh, Aramark’s In2Work program director who attended the ceremony that included a steak lunch. “We want to give them this unique opportunity.

“We do it because everybody deserves a second chance,” she said.

It’s a chance that Edmonds and his fellow In2Work classmates embraced.

“It was an amazing program,” said Melton, a 37-year-old who is in jail on a burglary charge. “It helped me build some skills and should lead to a lot of different opportunities.

“I’ve worked in restaurants before, but it was nothing in-depth as far as the financial end of things. This builds on the skills I already had. I feel really confident about getting a job when I get out.”

Likewise, McDowell said the program opened his eyes to opportunities he might be able to pursue once he is released from the jail by the end of the year.

“I made a bad decision,” said McDowell, a 32-year-old Russellville native who landed in jail on a DUI charge. “It cost me some time away from my family and friends.

“Now I know I can go into a restaurant and identify things that someone without this training couldn’t do. I’ve never done food service work, but I’m interested in it now.”

Interest in the program is growing, said Scott Vineyard, an Aramark employee who is food service director at the jail and served as instructor for the first round of the In2Work program.

The first local In2Work class consisted solely of men, but Vineyard said that when new classes start later this month there will be one for female inmates as well.

“We have almost 30 applicants for the next course,” Vineyard said. “We had one from the first course already find a job. This gives them an opportunity to join the workforce.”

It’s an opportunity that many inmates are eager to take advantage of, according to Harmon. “We have a waiting list to get into this program,” the jailer said.