I’m a sucker for smart second-chance programs. Having been a prisoner for two years, I know how the thought of returning to the streets is both exciting and frightening. Jobs and housing can be difficult to find. The stigma is defeating. Prisons rarely teach skills that stoke self-pride. Regaining life’s luster that was dulled by prison is a challenge.
Meet Brandon Edwin Chrostowski. Brandon is the founder of EDWINS, a classic fine dining French restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. His restaurant is staffed entirely by formerly incarcerated men and women. In a recent reddit post, Brandon states his goal is to “chang[e] the face of re-entry in America.” A brush with the law as a teen, followed by a lenient probation sentence by a judge, was a flashbulb moment for Brandon that highlighted the importance of a second chance.
What struck me about EDWINS’s business model was that it’s a rare reentry opportunity established and run by an individual—without government assistance. In contrast, my Warm and Fuzzy Prison Reform blog highlights how several states’ prison systems have inmate-trained service dog programs.
Brandon uses his expertise as a chef, coupled with his drive, to provide a second chance for inmates returning to the streets. He uses his knowledge of the restaurant business as the basis of his nonprofit reentry program. A quote by Brandon in the Huffington Post reveals his humane character:
What I know best is the restaurant business, so we change the way people think about those who get out of prison through food and through culinary skills.
But everyone does something well: What could you do in your life to help someone who doesn’t have as much as you do to get a little further? If you’re willing to teach, mentor and give opportunities, you can provide that support.
Brandon nails the keys to prison reform with three anchors: mentoring, giving opportunities, and providing support. Too many incarcerated people are not given the chance for rehabilitation using such an intuitive formula for success. His ideas make sense.
In his reddit post, Brandon outlines aspects of his six-month program. starting with his mission:
- “To give formerly incarcerated individuals a foundation in the hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary for successful re-entry to life outside of prison”
- To equip individuals with basic culinary skills
- To help ex-inmates find employment and job coaching
- To provide assistance in finding housing, basic medical care, clothing, and literacy programs
Brandon’s work earned him recognition in 2016 on CNN Heroes. Watch the video; I know you’ll feel inspired by smart reentry programs such as Brandon’s. Please share your reactions in the comments section.
You can see the dinner menu and wine list and make reservations here. Bon appétit.
Image courtesy of 123RF