Once men and women leave prison, they have few options and little hope. Edwins is working to change that.
After someone has paid the price for their crime and completed a prison sentence, the difficulties of their life certainly don’t end there. In her research for When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry, Joan Petersilia found that nearly 75 percent of men and women remained jobless up to a year after release from prison. Department of Justice research found that including a criminal record on an employment application reduced the likelihood of a callback or job offer by up to 50 percent. The United States Sentencing Commission found that more than 40 percent of ex-offenders return to prison within three years. The United States has one of the highest prison populations in the world, with nearly 7 million men and women behind bars; this costs the United States more than $80 billion per year, not including social costs.
Desperate, hopeless men and women pay their debts to society in the form of prison sentences and continue to pay in the forms of unemployment and recidivism.
Despite this gloomy outlook, there is hope. Job training, life skills and a safety net can help ex-offenders learn not only to thrive but also to improve their own communities. Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute teaches people these skills. In 2015, Religion & Liberty visited the restaurant in Cleveland and learned more about it and founder Brandon Chrostowski. Two years later, we decided to check in with Edwins and some of the men and women who’ve gone through the program. According to Edwins’ 2016 Report to the Community, 80 restaurants have hired Edwins graduates (165 from the institute and 75 from a program inside Grafton Correctional Institution, less than 30 miles outside of Cleveland). Recidivism for Edwins graduates is 1.2 percent.
Chrostowski recently stepped down as CEO to focus on community development and is running for mayor of Cleveland. As of July 2017, Thomas Nobbe is interim CEO.
We spoke to four Edwins graduates who wanted to share their journeys, successes and struggles.
“It just gave me a sense of purpose,” explains February 2017 graduate Faustino Torres. “I got laid off in 2013, and I had been going from job to job.”
Exhausted with seasonal jobs and struggling financially, Torres heard about Edwins and took advantage of the opportunity. A former Navy serviceman, Torres sees correlations between his military experience and his formation at Edwins. “It helped me kind of remind myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve done,” Torres says, reflecting on both experiences. “I’ve always had the attitude that there’s nothing I can’t do without preparation and work . . . I had been unemployed for so long that I kind of started to doubt myself. At Edwins you’re constantly under the fire, you’re constantly learning, taking on new skills, and that just reminded me that I can pretty much do anything that I set my mind to.”
This positive mental outlook and intense training helped Torres turn his situation around. He’s currently working as a prep cook at Urban Farmer, a restaurant in Cleveland. Things certainly aren’t perfect now. He says that finances are still a struggle, but he’s overcoming this obstacle slowly both through his job and through the skills he gained at Edwins. His favorite dish to prepare is duck risotto.
Not everyone who goes through Edwins has been convicted of a crime or has served prison time; the program is about giving people second chances. Some people work hard, follow the law and still find themselves in seemingly hopeless situations. Angela Sharpley was one of these people. She describes herself as a single mother and victim of domestic violence. She had opened a restaurant in 2010 but, despite winning awards, had been forced to close it in 2014. Looking back she admits she didn’t have the front-of-house skills to run a business, but she says her domestic situation also heavily weighed on her decision to shut down.
Without a job and with a young daughter to care for, Sharpley took a job canvassing for a presidential candidate. During this time she was invited to a Christmas party at Edwins. Sharpley didn’t want to attend the party because it was the last day of canvassing and she didn’t have enough signatures. But she reluctantly attended, met Brandon Chrostowski and took a leap. She asked him to mentor her.
Chrostowski encouraged Sharpley to join the Edwins program as soon as possible, so she visited the website. Registration ended at 10 a.m. and it was 8:30 a.m. Despite registration having been open for months, she hadn’t had a chance to visit the website until then. To complete her registration, she needed to visit the restaurant, which was on the other side of town.
It was wintertime. She didn’t own a car. She was getting over the flu. Sharpley accepted it wasn’t meant to be, but her daughter didn’t accept defeat so easily. “Mom, call Uncle Michael,” her daughter suggested. Sharpley’s brother, who works for the city of Euclid, had a car but was usually busy with work during the day. Sharpley got a hold of Michael, who just happened to be home with a sick puppy that day. He drove her to Edwins, where she signed up and was chosen for the next class.
Like so many other students, Sharpley discovered the hard work didn’t end with acceptance into Edwins. “It’s a very tedious process,” Sharpley recalls of the training. “The program is very hard. You work 12 hours a day. And it’s four days a week.” Along with maintaining her spot in the program, she had the added stress of worrying about her daughter. It was an extremely difficult six months, but she finished the program and graduated at the top of her class in 2016.