Like fancy dining? The next time you're at a nice restaurant, your perfectly braised osso buco over a bed of saffron risotto might be prepared by a convicted felon.
If so, you might have the Missouri Department of Corrections to thank. In Saturday's News Tribune, we reported at Algoa Correctional Center, a dozen inmates have been learning to cook under a culinary arts program directed by Mary Connell.
Lately, they've been busy baking and making gingerbread houses and large batches of cookies for various charitable events.
The culinary arts program is part of larger adult basic education program that includes business technology, auto repair, carpentry and cosmetology. The state's prison system has 22 industries operated in 12 correctional centers statewide. These industries employ approximately 1,400 offenders each month.
We like such programs for various reasons, but primarily because they teach vocations. It prepares them for re-entry into society once they've paid their debts. That, in turn, will help to lower the recidivism rate.
During the boom of prison inmates in the U.S. in the 1980s, it seemed like many prisons started focusing too much on retribution and too little on rehabilitation.
We also like that it's a way to teach prisoners to give back to society. Obviously, they can't make up for what they did by baking a loaf of the bread for their victims. However, they're donating their time and talents for their community — something we should all do.
"We do everything from soups to breakfast foods," Connell said. "They have to taste everything that they make. They know that if it doesn't go over with them, then others probably won't like it either."
She cares about the inmates, but acknowledges she's hard on them. However, they seem to appreciate the opportunity.
"I have a background in the culinary field, so this helps me keep up my skills so I'm ready to go when I get out," inmate Stephen Lewellen said.
We hope these programs continue to flourish in the Corrections, and we look forward to former inmates leading productive lives as a result.