“I look back at my family. My son’s face. My baby mother’s face. I can’t do this to them again.”
Jamel is a large man with a broad smile. His voice has a lightness to it that is pleasant, almost intoxicating.
I ask him to share his story.
“When I was in my twenties, before I was with Project Renewal, I was incarcerated for criminal possession with a weapon. Hanging around with the wrong people. Making the wrong decisions.” He considers his own statement for a second. “Wrong decisions can feel like the fun decisions at the time.”
And then: “Five years, I was in there.”
I ask him when things turned around for him.
“Pretty much first day I got out on bail.”
What happened then?
“I got to look back at my family. My son’s face. My baby mother’s face. I told myself, ‘I can’t do this to them again.’”
How’d you get through it?
“I did a lot of working out, lot of cooking. Got my LTCA (Limited Time Credit Allowance). They take 6 months off of your sentence for good behavior. It sounds easy but in jail anything can happen. If I was to go to jail again…” He didn’t finish his sentence.
“I ended up getting out in May 2014, instead of November 2014. Didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted everyone to be surprised. I wanted them to be like, ‘Oh snap, you home?’”
We both laugh. I ask him what was the next move.
“I was working through a mandatory drug program and anger management classes. Got a job at a furniture store. Was working over there for six days straight. Lady fired me because I was too slow. She said, ‘I’ll call you.’ Whatever that means…
“After that, a friend I was locked up with told me about the organization.”
“Yeah. I met with them, told them I wanted to be an electrician.”
Why an electrician?
“Electricians make a lot of money.”
That’s a good enough reason.
“But we got talking and they asked me what I liked to do. I said, ‘I do a lot of cooking.’ They asked if I wanted to work in the kitchen. ‘I’ll give it a shot,’ I said.
“Working in the catering department? Best thing in my life. I’m the only guy who came everyday, so they hired me. I’m growing. I’m learning everyday. I’m a sous chef now, up on 42nd street.”
What do you like to make?
“I like platters, salads. I love hors d'oeuvres. They take a lot of time and patience, but they taste so good. And I love the environment. Working with Chef Anthony, Eddie, Isaac. Part of me loving my job is loving my coworkers. If things get hectic, we find a way to work it out together.
“When I went into jail, my son was one. He was six when I got back. That’s not something I want to go through again. I think we all have moments where we can change. I had a lot of moments to change and say ‘I’m not going back to that.’”
He smiles. “I see more, now. I see the future.”
Jamel is the sous-chef at City Beet Kitchens, Project Renewal’s social purpose catering company that employs formerly homeless and unemployed men and women who have graduated from our award-winning Culinary Arts Training Program.
Join us in the fight against homelessness and order from City Beet Kitchens for your next corporate meeting, cocktail reception, wedding, or special event.