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Criminally delicious

By: Reading Time: 2 Minutes
Next Article Rice, rice, baby

Serving time: At The Clink, prison inmates serve gourmet meals… Inside the restaurant, cell phones and purses are forbidden. No alcohol is served, and routine security checks are always a possibility.

If that doesn’t tell you that The Clink works a little differently, you’ll probably notice when you start cutting into your steak with plastic cutlery.

All the extra security would seem bizarre at any other restaurant, but since The Clink is on prison property, it actually has a comforting effect. Prisoners are the trainees.

Image: David Cummings

The project’s primary goal is to help give them a second chance. England has one of the largest prison populations in Europe; inmates have a recidivism rate of 45% within the first year following their release, and after that it rises to 75%. It’s a vicious cycle that most people simply can’t escape: many of those who end up in prison were born into poverty or other difficult circumstances, and are unable to obtain a good education. After they’re released, they often have little to no support network, and hardly anyone wants to give them a job, so they’re at great risk of returning to their old ways.

Prison break

Crisci wants to break this cycle once and for all. Prisoners with less than a year left on their sentences can apply to work at one of The Clink’s locations. The selection process is strict, because the jobs are in such high demand. Around 15 people work in each kitchen, and another 15 are front-of-house. In the months before and after their release, they receive top-notch culinary training, and graduate as certified culinary or service professionals. The restaurant also has social workers on staff to help them find apartments and apply for jobs on the outside. The Clink works with around 200 potential employers, recommending graduates for jobs.

Image: Hannah Hughes

Jailhouse rock

The idea’s a hit. For a while, The Clink was even at the top of Tripadvisor’s list of best restaurants in London, beating out more than 18,000 other locations. They serve gourmet cuisine made with regional ingredients. The project now includes four restaurants throughout Great Britain, one catering company, and two farms producing food for the restaurants. They plan on expanding it to 20 restaurants by 2020. As a non-profit organization, the company relies on donations and sponsorship in addition to its restaurant revenues. Though there’s little money in it, the project’s success is measured by a different standard: The Clink employees have a recidivism rate of just 10.7%. Currently, over 100 inmates graduate from the program each year; 1,500 people have completed it so far. In other respects, the restaurants themselves are like any other gourmet place: elegant decor, attentive staff, excellent food. Suddenly, the plastic forks and alcohol-free cocktails don’t seem half as bad.

It started with alcohol. Then Steven turned to harder drugs. His heroin addiction cost him his job, and little by little, he slipped into a life of crime. In prison, he turned his life around, discovered Buddhism, and applied for The Clink. Working there opened his eyes: he had to stop avoiding other people, which meant he had to face his own demons. Today, he’s in an addiction recovery program, living in his own apartment, and working in his “actual” field of painting and decorating. And if those jobs ever dry up, he knows he has The Clink to fall back on, for which he’s grateful.

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