Bias can be hard to change—until an experience alters your perceptions. Giving ex-offenders the opportunity to work in the hospitality industry can be life changing for everyone.
Here, a director at a multi-location restaurant group who works with the formerly incarcerated and a chef who turned his life around after prison, share their views in their own words.
Director of Enterprise for Homeboy Industries culinary division which runs a diner, bakery and cafe as well as a training program for formerly incarcerated adults in Los Angeles.
Backstory: Clocked more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, including a stint as an executive chef for Whole Foods Market.
“When you hire previously incarcerated men and women, it means more to them than just gaining a job. It shows them that the stigma is now broken. It is about compassion, forgiveness and giving them hope. You’re saying to them, ‘I believe in you, I see you.’
Some business owners can have preconceived notions that previously incarcerated men and women are criminals no matter what, that they are not to be trusted, that they are damaged and should be locked away, that they are lazy and won’t do the work.
It’s opposite of that. Previously incarcerated men and women are the strongest group of people you can work with. They are dying to change their lives; being treated like human beings is what they crave. Prison doesn’t help anyone become a better person—compassion, unconditional love, trust and being allowed to heal does.
Quentin ‘Que’ Mitchell
Personal chef and menu consultant at Carluccio’s in Bethesda, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia. No work experience after serving sentences for five felonies.
Backstory: Experience at restaurants and country clubs in the Washington, DC area, including B. Smith’s, Ben’s and the Congressional Country Club.
“In 2008, I moved to (Washington,) D.C. I applied daily for jobs and everyone turned me away. Because I didn’t have drug charges and was still eligible for federal grants and loans, I was able to start culinary school at the Art Institute of Washington. Two weeks into school, I met a guy who worked in a restaurant and needed a dishwasher. As time went on, I moved up to prep, cook and one year later was getting trained to do ordering and inventory. I worked there two years and felt confident enough to go to a larger-scale restaurant. I became the executive chef for an upscale museum and private hotel in DuPont Circle. That’s where I met and fed celebrities, from news anchor Jim Vance to former FBI director James Comey. Not one other person asked me about my background and almost no one even knows I’m an ex-offender.
“The only thing that makes me realize my background will never leave me is when trying to rent or buy a home for my family. I get denied. They don’t care that I’ve run four restaurants and haven’t gotten in trouble since the day I left prison. Hopefully my story will inspire someone like me to know that anything is possible. When I hire, I give and have given countless ex-offenders a chance, and 60 percent of them now have a career as chefs and some of them go to culinary school. It’s a handful of ex-convicts that make other ones look bad, the ones who aren’t willing to leave the environment that got them into prison.”