I developed a passion for the culinary arts at a young age, when my mother used to teach my sister and me how to cook. My entire family has always loved cooking—you could say that I inherited my talent from them.
I was incarcerated at the age of 16, and continued to develop this passion by working in the kitchens and serving food to other incarcerated individuals in prison. I started in the mess hall as a line worker and dishwasher, and was then put in charge of chopping vegetables. I completed Culinary Arts training while incarcerated and soon became head chef. During my fourteen-year sentence, I was moved between several different prisons, but cooking helped me stay focused. It kept me preoccupied and productive.
I returned to my family upon release in 2008. My community was welcoming and supportive, but I still faced the enormous barrier of finding employment. Because I was incarcerated as a teenager, I had no work experience to put on my resume. It was also difficult to maintain a job while following curfew during my parole. My situation became incredibly frustrating because employers kept letting me go.
Hoping to find sustainable job opportunities, I came to The Fortune Society in 2013 for their Employment Services program. Here, I learned valuable interviewing techniques and completed the Culinary Arts program. I applied to be a chef for Fortune’s Food and Nutrition program.
The head of the program saw my passion for cooking and asked me to run the Breakfast Bar, which serves clients living at Castle Gardens, our supportive housing unit in West Harlem. I’ve been running the Breakfast Bar and serving residents there ever since. Four days a week, I arrive early in the morning to unpack ingredients, set up the carts I use for cooking, and prepare for the day.
I have always used cooking as a tool to make others smile. It’s fulfilling to provide clients with wholesome, delicious meals, made only with fresh ingredients, to start the day. The Breakfast Bar has been very successful, and I hope it will continue to expand to serve more clients, inspiring their own home meal preparations.
I am grateful that Fortune provides opportunities for me to succeed, and I’m now inspired to go deeper into the Culinary Arts industry. One day, I hope to own a restaurant.
Despite my past mistakes, I cherish my life and would not trade it for anything. Fortune gave me the chance to start over. I use my story to encourage other formerly incarcerated people to come here. I am proud to use my passion for cooking to help clients rebuild their lives, just like Fortune did for me.