“I see more now. I see the future.” - Jamel’s Story

Jamel at city beet kitchens

Jamel at city beet kitchens

“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.”

Project Renewal?

“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.”

- Dan Foley


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.

Visit www.citybeetkitchens.org.