Eye on Hospitality: Felons Find Second Chances in Hospitality Industry

Eye on Hospitality: Felons Find Second Chances in Hospitality Industry https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/empty-restaurant500-508x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

They’ve paid their debt to society. Now that they’re out of prison, many formerly incarcerated felons face great difficulties in finding the employment they need to build the kind of stable lives that make it less likely they will fall back into bad habits and bad associations and re-offend.

Between 14 million and 15.8 million working age Americans have felony convictions. Of these felons, 6.1 million to 6.9 million are also former prisoners. Because of their pasts, employers often won’t hire them. According to a 2016 analysis from the Center on Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), approximately 1.7 million to 1.9 million are people are prevented from working due to felony convictions.

Fortunately, the hospitality industry is increasingly finding that ex-convicts can be motivated employees with much to offer.

“I didn’t picture it like this,” said Darwin Hailey, the executive sous chef at Edwins, a French fine dining restaurant, in Cleveland, and a former inmate.

Hailey was hired after completing six months at Edwins’ Leadership and Training Institute, which trains people who have done prison time for restaurant careers.

Karen Webb, a current student at Edwins, spent 13 years in prison where she worked as a baker. She feels the structure and training at Edwins will help her advance in the industry when she completes the program.

“It’s just a challenge that I want to succeed in,” she said.

And it’s not just Edwins that’s helping ex-inmates find their place in society. Throughout the U.S., organizations are fighting recidivism by assisting ex-offenders in building long-term restaurant careers. Doe Fund and Drive Change in New York City, DC Central Kitchen, in Washington D.C., culinary-training programs within prisons, and many other organizations are working to train inmates for restaurants. And major hotel chains like Marriott and Hyatt are known as employers that are willing to give felons a second chance.

Contributing to the willingness of employers to take a chance of ex-inmates is the current labor shortage. If, as most economists expect, decent job growth continues, difficult to employ groups — people with criminal records, disabilities, low skills or little education — could make real gains.

“It’s totally possible for someone to have a ratchet past, a troubled past, and be able to turn his life around in this industry,” said Tremaine Baker, who spent two years in prison and now works at San Diego’s H20 Sushi & Izakaya. “I think it’s a saving grace.”

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