In a Handful of Prisons, Inmates Are Being Trained in the Restaurant Business

Real-world experience is hard to come by behind bars, but some charities and prisons are working to change that

Prison Food Graffiti
Prison Food Graffiti Stephen Hanafin

Finding steady employment can be one of the hardest challenges facing people coming out of prison. Real-world experience is hard to come by behind bars, but some charities and prisons are working to change that.

The Clink is a restaurant located in Brixton Prison in South London, and offers breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday to guests registered at least 48 hours in advance. The idea is to give inmates real world experience and job training before they leave.


Chefs and servers involved in these projects are all prisoners with between six and 18 months of their sentences remaining.

Trainees work full-time -- a 40-hour week -- studying toward nationally recognized City & Guilds National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) in food preparation, front-of-house service and industrial cleaning, before returning to their cells in the evening.

The Brixton addition is the third of what will eventually be 10 prison restaurants across the UK within the next three years.

The Clink’s security policy for visitors compares the security measures (including being fingerprinted, photographed, and searched) to airport security, though chewing gum, cameras and laptops are banned along with scissors and knives. Patrons must pay by check or invoice, as you can only bring 50 GBP in cash into the prison. They also have a very strict PR team:  

Members of the press may only visit the prison, including The Clink, with the express permission of the Governor. All guests are also asked not to give information about their visit to the press without seeking the prison’s permission in advance. 

The U.K. isn’t the only place that prisons have giving inmates this sort of training. In 2006, an upscale restaurant opened in a high-security prison (and renaissance-era fortress) in Volterra, Italy. In South Africa, the notorious Pollsmoor Prison, which once housed Nelson Mandela, is open for lunch. Here in the United States, the Fife and Drum at a minimum security prison in Concord, Massachusetts, serves an inexpensive lunch Tuesday-Friday. 

The Fife and Drum program, at least, seems to be working. talked to inmate Calvin Hodge who worked at the Fife and Drum in 2012:

“It’s excellent,’’ said Hodge, who is from Framingham. “I’ve learned just about everything from dishwashing to cooking to serving. I get the experience of the whole kitchen.’’

The jobs rotate about every five weeks, he said, adding that he has offered menu suggestions, and once called home for a special recipe.

“I’ve gone from a felon to being able to present myself with a certificate,’’ said Hodge. “It allows people to overlook the conviction and see that I’ve turned it around.’’

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