SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - It is a "recipe for change" that has benefited dozens of inmates at a local jail by providing them with lifelong career skills that begin in the kitchen.
For April Garcia serving up gourmet lattes has been an essential part of her time at the Las Colinas Detention and Re-Entry Facility.
For 17 months and counting, the process has provided her with the fresh start she needed.
“We just opened this cart in November of last year. We built it from the ground up and it’s doing amazing,” she said.
April is part of an innovative and intensive culinary arts program that only provides inmates the textbook knowledge to work in a restaurant but goes much further.
The program prepares the women for life after they are released from jail.
Among the women at the jail is Airam Beltran.
“I chose this culinary arts program because I wanted to do something with my time instead of ‘doing my time,’” she said.
It’s a time-sensitive commitment. After two-hours of class, starting at 6 a.m., the women run the Missing Fork Cafe at Las Colinas.
They are taught everything from food presentation, to planning, preparing and serving elaborate meals that feed the entire staff.
The culinary program at Las Colinas runs in collaboration with the Grossmont Adult School. It teaches the essentials of restaurant management and human resources.
Captain Erika Frierson said the coveted certificate the inmates earn from the National Restaurant Association can unlock the door to successful employment and reduced recidivism.
“It definitely can make a big difference. Our goal is not to see any of these woman back in our custody, but see them in a restaurant out in our community,” said Capt. Frierson.
The program started two years ago, but it already has 29 graduates.
The most recent was 32-year-old Maria Lamas.
"The biggest change we see in these women is their self-esteem and their confidence just completely increases as the weeks go on,” said Capt. Frierson.
Former inmate Joanne Gill is one of the program’s success stories.
“Now, where I work I can see everything I was taught,” she said.
Gill credits the program with helping her secure a cashier’s job at a South Bay McDonald’s after her release.
The program is credited with helping the women at Las Colinas make a difference in all aspects of their lives.