By Anna Salinas
Freddie Smith was determined to stay free. Newly released from a prison sentence in D.C. in 2008, he had been in and out of jail since he was 13 years old. But this time was different; this time he had shown huge gains in stabilizing his life, having spent months in a drug rehabilitation center. Then the judge demanded 90 days in a halfway house-standard for ex-offenders in the District.
"The only thing I could do was go to work," said Smith. But finding work was difficult, especially since employers are often wary to hire exoffenders. Then he remembered how a friend back at his rehab center had recommended he apply to a place called DC Central Kitchen, which, he was told, trained at-risk individuals such as ex-offenders and victims of substance abuse-in his case, he was both-in professional culinary skills. The organization then linked participants to jobs in commercial kitchens around D.C. with a nearly perfect placement record.
Smith quickly applied to the program and was soon accepted. Three years later, having successfully completed the program, he is now a staff member at DC Central Kitchen. Yet D.C. has few organizations like DC Central Kitchen-that is, programs that not only offer transitional outreach services to ex-offenders, but also train them in useful job skills.
Efforts DC, an organization that specializes in providing ex-offenders with general "re-entry" tools, offers mostly counseling, drug education and life skills workshops.
For its part, DC Central Kitchen offers participating students-many of whom enter the program with a previous interest or background in cooking-free books, a transportation stipend and two meals a day. It also links them to various transitional programs, including transitional housing shelters and pre-trial services, and eventually to a job in one of D.C.’s commercial kitchens, with the hope of stabilizing their day-today lives.
Street Sense is biweekly nonprofit newspaper publishing on issues pertaining to homelessness and poverty, sold by homeless individuals on the streets to help them earn an honest income. To donate directly to Street Sense, click here.
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