Stateside foodies who have ever seen an episode of Oz or Orange is the New Black likely have fairly clear impressions of what happens in a prison kitchen, a place where food is not necessarily the primary focus. Rarely is prison food considered palatable, for certain.
Taking Prison Food to a New Level
But in England, prison food has taken on a whole new meaning. In four Her Majesty’s Prisons, referred to as “HMP” correctional facilities, classic table-service restaurants serving gourmet cuisine have been opened since 2009. The first was at HMP High Down, in Surrey. Three have followed in London, Wales and Cheshire.
Each of the prison restaurants have been launched as part of a program of rehabilitation and training of prisoners as chefs, waiters, baristas and barmen. All locations are open to the public as any other white tablecloth-service venue is, with prisoners preparing, cooking and serving all food, non-alcoholic beverages and desserts. The inmates are able to acclimate to dealing with the public, gain work experience, display teamwork, exhibit work ethic and build a quality resume before release.
Prisoner Rehabilitation, One Meal at a Time
After his release, one prisoner named Tony started a position at a high-profile London eatery. Because of the program, he was able to learn how to be a good employee before his time behind bars ran out.
Of the Clink program Tony said, “The Clink has helped me develop as a person and to develop skills in a different environment. As a direct result of all of the help and support I have received, I now have confidence, direction, social skills, my verbal communication and language have improved and I am much more comfortable in intense social situations.”
Another prisoner named Steven added, “Working at the Clink opened my eyes to teamwork, working with the public but most of all being myself and gaining the confidence to do so. Working in a restaurant you have no choice but to face people, smile and be polite. There’s nowhere to hide. I realized that this had been an issue for me without even knowing.”
The chances of a prisoner working in one of these restaurants committing a future offense is an amazing 30 percent less than those who are released into society without this experience. About 50 prisoners from each restaurant are released from prison each year, so the cumulative 500 or so who are now living crime-free after this training and support have become assets to their communities. Prisoners gain job placement assistance according to their proven skillsets, starting before leaving prison.
Tony looks toward a bright future now that he is free from his past of crime. He said, “My plan now is to use the training I have had, learn as much as I can and progress within the catering and hospitality industry. I hope to open my own restaurant and club, now that I see what is achievable through hard work.”
Locals around each restaurant, visitors and national business leaders have been incredibly supportive of these programs. Donors have widely jumped on board and six more restaurants are slated to open by the end of 2017. The original restaurant concept has now expanded to including a catering venture and a horticultural business which provides organic elements of the restaurants’ prepared dishes.
Within each restaurant located in the prison walls, about 30 prisoners work 40 hours per week. More than 20 culinary awards have been won by the teams and diners provide resoundingly favorable reviews. British educational and training auditors have also provided two “outstanding” program designations. TripAdvisor named one of the locations the “10th Best Restaurant in the UK.” Each location offers unique aspects, such as meeting and conference facilities for corporate groups, private dining rooms and public dining rooms.
When in England, spend some time in the Clink.
Click through the slideshow below to tour the four locations and cuisine of the Clink.