04/05/2012 12:36 pm ET

Freddie Smith Is Out Of Prison But Still Struggling

By Anna Salinas
Street Sense

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.

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