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Posts Tagged ‘incarcerated’

Photo: Stephen Humphries/Christian Science Monitor.
Chef Brandon Chrostowski (center) teaches trainees inside the kitchen for Edwins Too, one of his two French fine dining restaurants on the East Side of Cleveland.

When you take a wrong path in life, does it have to determine everything that happens later? At the Christian Science Monitor, Stephen Humphries writes about a chef who is making sure that some people are successful when they start over.

“Brandon Chrostowski is telling his origin story for probably the thousandth time. He’s pacing the stage of a local high school, holding his microphone with the confidence of a rock star. Mr. Chrostowski is a distinguished chef – he was a restaurateur semifinalist in the 2022 James Beard awards – and founder of a Cleveland restaurant with a philanthropic mission. Yet he’s ambivalent about all the acclaim. He’s tasted what it’s like to be stripped of dignity. At 18 he was arrested for fleeing and eluding the police. He and some friends had been in a car with drugs they intended to sell.

“ ‘I learned a lot of things. One, the dehumanization in the criminal justice system,’ he tells the students at Gilmour Academy. ‘Also, the idea of freedom. You don’t really know what freedom is until you lose it.’

“A lenient judge decided against sentencing him to prison. Mr. Chrostowski has never forgotten that he was fortunate not to serve a 5-to-10-year sentence. It’s the reason he launched Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute on Cleveland’s East Side. 

“What makes Edwins unique isn’t just its French cuisine, but its workers – they’re formerly incarcerated adults. Over six months, those in training learn skills for employment in the culinary world. More than that, Mr. Chrostowski tries to draw out a sense of self-worth in those who’ve served time by showing them how to attain excellence. 

‘The single hardest thing we have to do at Edwins is really build esteem in someone that has lost that, or that sense of humanity, through incarceration,’ says Mr. Chrostowski.

“Hours before giving his speech at the high school, Mr. Chrostowski strides into a kitchen where two trainees are singing along to a Bobby Womack tune on the radio. Tying a half apron around his waist, the chef quickly assesses a hunk of braised beef inside a pot as large as a bassinet. …

“As Mr. Chrostowski shares tips with Richie, he picks up a knife and demonstrates how to slice asparagus. In 2017, Edwins was the subject of an Oscar-nominated short documentary titled Knife Skills. …

“Abdul El-Amin enrolled in the program in June after being incarcerated for 20 years. ‘When you come here, it is sincere. You’re welcome. You can feel it,’ he says after his first two weeks of training. He adds, ‘I’m seeing so many other opportunities that I didn’t think about when I was incarcerated.’

“That’s not to say the program isn’t demanding. Over 2,000 people have trained at Edwins since its opening in 2013. Of those, only 600 have graduated because most drop out, often within the first two weeks. (They’re always welcome to reapply.) The program boasts a 95% employment rate for its alumni, and fewer than 1% of graduates are re-incarcerated. Star pupils have gone on to work in restaurants across America and even in France.

“ ‘[Mr. Chrostowski] really doesn’t care what walk of life you’re from, who you are, what you’ve done,’ says William Brown, a staff member at Cleveland’s Community Assessment & Treatment Services, a rehabilitation organization that enrolls promising individuals in the Edwins program. ‘He wants to see you succeed. And he will go the extra mile.’ 

“Mr. Chrostowski has a hectic daily schedule. During peak restaurant rush hours, the chef admits to hurling pans in frustration, but they’re not aimed at anyone. … He pursues the exacting standards he learned as an apprentice at restaurants such as Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Le Cirque in New York, and Lucas Carton in Paris. He rose fast. But he’s never forgotten his first break. In the late 1990s, a Detroit chef named George Kalergis took him in while he was still on parole. 

“Years later, Mr. Kalergis called from Detroit with bad news. A man named Quentin, who’d learned the rudiments of restaurant cooking alongside Mr. Chrostowski, had been stabbed to death. …

“ ‘I started to think, “How is it possible I’m here, and others are not?” ‘ says Mr. Chrostowski. … He wanted to help others, just as Chef Kalergis had helped him. But it took another decade of working in restaurants – including a move to Cleveland in 2008 – before he was able to raise the money to fulfill his vision.

“Mr. Chrostowski came up with the name, which is shorthand for ‘Education wins.’ Edwin is also the chef’s middle name. A few years after moving to Cleveland, he opened his restaurant in a historic, racially diverse area called Shaker Square. In 2020, he expanded by opening a second restaurant, Edwins Too, on the opposite side of the town’s leafy square. He’s also launched a French bakery and a butchery. The expansions have helped the area become a dining destination. 

“Just off the main street in Shaker Square, Mr. Chrostowski proudly shows off his latest project, which will become a child care center. ‘We’ve raised about $250,000 for a family center or day care,’ he says. ‘Free day care for staff and students, because 80% of our students with children don’t finish. It’s a big number and we want to change that.’

“The chef also wants to help outside Ohio. In April he traveled to his ancestral home of Poland to cook for refugees fleeing Ukraine. He’s also created a 30-hour curriculum and distributed it on 400,000 tablets to prisons in the United States. Dee and Jimmy Haslam, co-owners of the Cleveland Browns football team, will pay for transportation for anyone in the U.S. who completes the virtual instruction and applies to join the Edwins program.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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metro-arts-student

Photo: Metro Arts
This
student is engaged in a restorative justice program that uses the arts to reach young offenders. Cecilia Olusola Tribble, Community Arts Coordinator of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, says, “We have been able to work and watch miracles happen every day.”

My friend Diana was the first to explain to me the concept of restorative justice, and I wrote about it here. The idea is to bring a young perpetrator and his or her victim together, if the victim is willing, to learn about the effects of the crime and make restitution. When the process works, the young person turns aside from wrongdoing and keeps a clean record. Today I have a story about how the arts can be part of a restorative justice outreach to youth who are already incarcerated.

Cecilia Olusola Tribble writes at ArtsBlog, “The purpose of the Restorative Justice + the Arts program is to enable artists and arts organizations to provide dynamic program opportunities for youth and families who have interacted with the criminal justice system. Our aim is to equip teaching artists with the tools they need to bolster their practice in ways that lead youth toward productivity, resiliency, and well-being.

“In 2016, photographer and musician Nduka Onwuzurigbo heard about the transformation happening in the juvenile justice system and wanted to create a project with the youth in the detention center.

“Since her election in 2014, Judge Sheila Calloway has been restructuring the juvenile justice system in Metro Nashville/Davidson County to include resources to divert children and families in trouble, providing them creative paths toward a better, brighter, and more productive future. …

“[She] mobilized her team to make sure the children in the detention center were able to participate in the photography project. As that singular project was seeing success with the youth who were incarcerated and had a positive community response, Metro Arts in Nashville approached the judge about establishing an ongoing partnership. Since then, Metro Arts and the Juvenile Court in collaboration with the Oasis Center have been able to build the Restorative Justice + Arts program.

“It costs roughly $88,000 to incarcerate one youth for a year in Nashville. For the same amount of money, we have been able to pitch, build, and pilot the Restorative Justice + Arts program. …

“To start the program, Metro Arts held focus groups with our artist community, grantees, arts educators, and other stakeholders. … Next, Metro Arts spent time in the various departments in Juvenile Court. The focus in the court is in the process of shifting from solely emphasizing penalty to giving children and parents the tools to restore healthy relationships and communities. Judge Calloway has explained Restorative Justice in the following way:

‘Restorative Justice moves the conversation from “Who did the crime & what do they deserve?” to “Who has been harmed?”, “What are their needs?” [and] “Whose obligation is it to fix their harm?” ‘ …

“In FY 2018, the artists have been able to serve 424 youth who have been incarcerated, had other involvement with the court, or who are deemed at-risk due to poverty, school attendance, neighborhood crime, poor school performance, or living in an area where fresh food is scarce. …

“It is because of the partnership between multiple government agencies, youth-centered organizations, arts organizations, and artists that we have been able to work and watch miracles happen every day. We have witnessed youth leaving the detention center and seeking out their yoga and dance teacher. … We have watched the miracle where former gang members admit to shooting at each other, but theater and painting classes have bonded them together as brothers with arms entangled. Our hearts are full at experiencing young folks arguing with the characters of an August Wilson play to make a better choice. …

“This spark came from one artist who asked the question and made the difference.” One and one and 50 make a million. More here.

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When people are serving time for a crime, how much better for society — both during their sentence and after they get out — if they have some useful work while inside.

Patricia Leigh Brown writes at Atlas Obscura, “Justin King spends most of his hours in a cinderblock dormitory room for minimum-security prisoners, sleeping on a metal bunk bed and being constantly monitored by surveillance cameras.

“But on a crisp California morning with coastal fog hanging on the hillsides, King, who is serving time for selling methamphetamines, and three of his fellow inmates at the Mendocino County jail huddle together in a 175-acre vineyard to pick plump sangiovese grapes. The only visible difference between the prisoners and the other field workers are the GPS tracking devices wrapped around their ankles.

” ‘Hey dude!’ King, 32, called out to his fellow inmate, Meliton Rangel, as King eyed a promising group of clusters wet with dew. ‘I hit clump city here!’

“The men’s enthusiasm for grapes with just the right sugar levels and tannins is a variation on the concept of work release, in which inmates deemed low security risks are employed by private companies. …

” ‘They’re hard workers,’ [Vineyard owner Martha] Barra says of her new employees, who wear “civilian” clothes in her magazine-esque vineyard. ‘They have to meet the same punctuality and performance requirements as everybody else.’ …

“The work is notoriously grueling: At first, Rangel, a stiff-legged 37, said he was going to quit. That changed when he received his first paycheck—his first one ever. ‘This has really helped me out,’ he says. ‘It feels very good to work.’ …

“In the Mendocino program last year, four of the six inmates who worked on the grape crew at Redwood Valley Vineyards have indeed stayed out of jail. Three now have full-time jobs. One now works at the vineyard full-time, rebounding from tough years of drug addiction and homelessness. …

” ‘There’s peace of mind out here,’ King says.”

More here.

Photo: Olivier Vanpé /Wikimedia Commons
Clusters of ripe and unripe Pinot noir grapes.

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