NORMAN — Several inmates beamed with pride at the Cleveland County Justice Center as they cooked, served lunch and were recognized by several public officials during their graduation Tuesday from a food service program, In2Work.
Sheriff Joe Lester said the nine inmates have been working 12 to 14 hours a day for 90 consecutive days to help them become more productive members of society. In2Work is a national program designed to help reduce recidivism and help inmates find employment when they are released.
Glenn Hamlett, Great Southwest district manager for Aramark Correctional Services, which partners with jail staff for the food service program, said the nine inmates are joining a previous graduating group of more than 1,600 inmates across the United States.
“When you think about time behind bars, it’s exciting to see programs that offer offenders a chance to change their trajectory and where they’re headed,” Hamlett said.
Each of the inmates will receive a National Restaurant Association ServeSafe certification, which will give them a “leg up” when applying for their first jobs when they are released from jail.
The menu the inmates prepared for graduation attendees Tuesday included a spring salad with scratch club rolls, Southwest beef tenderloin medallions with chipotle horseradish sauce, almond-crusted asparagus and smashed potatoes with rosemary butter. For dessert, the group prepared toasted pound cake covered with balsalmic-macerated strawberries and basil.
“I want to tell you guys how proud I am of you. What you’ve accomplished is nothing short of a miracle,” Lester said.
The sheriff said all of the inmates in the program are due to be released from jail soon. Two inmates were expected to be released within 24 hours and are expected to talk to local restaurants for possible jobs upon their release.
“Both of you tell them the sheriff sent you. As for the rest of you that get out and go look for work, feel free to use my name. I’m proud of each one of you,” Lester said. “This is a the turning point in your lives, and you can be real productive members of this community or any community, and what you take from what you’ve learned in here, you can go far with.”