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Sizzling culinary program helps inmates find peace, purpose and hope for a future

By Maria Young, HD Media

WEST COLUMBIA, W.Va. — If you want to give your comedic talents a boost, try asking a group of folks at a state corrections facility which is better, the food prepared by the inmates in the culinary arts training program, or the stuff served in the prison cafeteria.

When the laughter dies down, you’ll get a laundry list of colorful comparisons. Most notably: “McDonald’s and the Chop House.”

The Culinary Arts education program at Lakin Correctional Center and Jail in West Columbia, Mason County — near the West Virginia-Ohio line — is so successful that there’s often a waiting line of staff hoping for class samples and a waiting list of inmates hoping to be accepted into classes. Corrections officials point to evidence that the skills taught in the program are valuable enough on the outside that they’re lowering recidivism rates by helping former inmates find — and keep — good jobs despite their felony convictions.

‘This is all I’m doing’

Behind the barbed wire and the steel bars, the class kitchen is bustling. A woman with short blond hair and a forearm that sports tattoos is carefully swirling a purple border of cream cheese frosting onto a dark chocolate cake adorned with fresh blueberries. A couple of students are slow frying seasoned chicken “so all the good stuff stays on.” A few more are taking turns washing dishes in a row of commercial-sized, stainless-steel sinks. Several others worked on a layered salad, creamy mac-and-cheese and homemade rolls.

Canned biscuits, said apprentice Rachel Hardesty, are “not really our thing.”

After gathering the ingredients for the rolls, including yeast, flour, eggs, water, sugar and oil, “the hardest part really is mixing it, and then the waiting game of letting it rise,” Hardesty said.

But that’s not really a complaint. The truth is, “I love to cook. I’m Italian,” she said. “I wanted something to do with my time while I’m here… When I get out, this is all I’m doing.”

That’s the hope for Hardesty and scores of other participants — that their new-found skills will help them land a job doing something they love.

Read more: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/sizzling-culinary-program-helps-inmates-find-peace-purpose-and-hope-for-a-future/article_05624fbf-ca47-5bb5-93fc-4d64a07319ce.html

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