The Prison Restaurant: More than just bread, water and porridge
In 2009 I opened a new gourmet restaurant called The Clink, serving food of the highest quality. Big deal you might say. After all, I am a chef. However the location might surprise some people. It is slap-bang in the middle of a Category B prison and all the chefs and waiters are serving prisoners. Tune into BBC One tomorrow night to see the documentary The Prison Restaurant, and see for yourself what we do.
It’s been proven that a healthy diet improves behaviour. Just ask Oxford professor Bernard Gesch – and check out The Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour. It makes sense. Why serve rubbish for £2.10 when you can, with a little more effort, and within the same budget, cook food which helps improve behaviour?
Let me explain how I see it. There’s no point in locking up prisoners without providing work and training, so that when they are released they have no job, house or qualifications. They may well just commit another crime and come back to prison. It’s a vicious circle. Most prisons provide education and work to help reintegrate those they release back into society.
But we provide something different to a lot of jails. We train prisoners to a high level by signing them up to cooking and food service diplomas. We also engage with employers who are willing to offer them a job when they are released. If they need accommodation, then we have contacts who can help. All this in a restaurant paid for by private donations and run by a charity - at no cost to the taxpayer.
The Clink also employs two ex-offenders full-time, as well as the numerous prisoners we have working in the kitchen and front-of-house. Simon, Ray, Winston, Trevor, Thomas, Patrick, Kane, Dean and Francis are the names of some of the men that we helped rehabilitate and that are still behaving.
I just wish that the many people who criticise prisoners who are trying to improve their lives would imagine a member of their own family being in the same situation. Many have screwed up, ended up in prison and don’t want to keep coming back, but have no qualifications or job prospects.
The most fulfilling part of my career as a chef has not been the West End restaurants and hotels I worked in, but passing on the things I learned in the prison kitchens. Every day I am lucky enough to share my skill and experience with people who want to improve their lives, who want to support their families and who want to feel proud of themselves for once, instead of ashamed of their actions.
Is it better to spend £40,000 a year on keeping a prisoner behind bars or to rehabilitate them and help them get a job at the end of their sentence, so that they can start repaying their debt to society? What do you think?
Al Crisci appears in BBC One documentary The Prison Restaurant.