On 06/24/07, a partnership between the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office and the Lake Tahoe Community College began. Together the College and Sheriff’s Office started a Culinary Program at the Tahoe Jail that was so successful; it was expanded to include the Placerville Jail. The purpose of the program is to teach incarcerated individuals usable job skills for when they are released.
If accepted into the program, inmates become actual college students earning actual college credits, leaving the jail with minimally a college transcript. This in itself brings a self-worth and pride to the individual workers. Many of the inmates enroll themselves in classes at the college when they were released feeling like they are already part of the college system.
Classes are offered by the amount of time they have with us inside the facility. They earn 100-500 hours of instruction equaling 3-14 college credits. They are taught cooking methods, baking and pastry, catering, and sanitation to name a few. Inmates enrolled in 300+ hours can take the National Serv Safe Manager Test to be certified nationally in sanitation. This is a big accomplishment and a good way to get a foot in the door with a new job. Over the past 5 years we have had 65 inmates pass the national test.
Each culinary class has been very involved in the community. We help non-profit organizations with catering and other food related services. Some examples over the last 11 years are the Lake Tahoe Community College Foundation, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, and El Dorado County in general during the Angora Fire and the King fire. We have also helped the Lake Tahoe Optimist Club, the Rotary Club, Live Violence Free, and the Girl Scouts. Having the inmates work local events allows them to give back and makes them feel more apart of the community.
Since 2007, inmates have entered their goods into the El Dorado County Fair. This year the inmates entered 18 items winning 17 awards. They received 10 first place and 7 second place ribbons. The inmates leave the ribbons at the jail to be displayed down the kitchen hall for all future inmates to see. In the past 11 years we have won 3 best in shows, 51 first place awards, 47 second place awards, and 13 third place awards for a total of 114 ribbons.
Being involved with the Culinary Program the inmates learn more than cooking and baking. We try to teach the importance of honesty, trust, integrity, and respect in everything they do. The inmates that take this to heart are the ones that seem to make it on their own when released. Over the years we have had inmates graduate with a degree from the college. One has gone onto culinary school and is now an executive chef at a restaurant. Others have found jobs as maintenance managers in the hotel industry, one is enrolled in college, one is working at a bakery, and one is working at a country club in Chico. So if the inmate is willing and ready to change, this program will help them succeed.
If you ever have a chance to sample some goodies from the Culinary Program, please do. It is not only good, but it is so good, it’s most likely award winning.
Lt. Tom Murdoch