INDIANAPOLIS — Giving offenders skills and confidence they need to land a job upon their release, that is the goal of a vocational training program utilized in prisons across our state.
The "Aramark IN2WORK" program provides both classroom and hands-on experiences in the food-service industry while offenders serve time.
With their completion of the National Restaurant Association's ServSafe exam and graduation from this program, participants earn certification. That certification can assist them in landing a job when they are released. They are also learning how to work with a team and acquire skills to help them advance in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
At the Indiana Women's Prison, IN2WORK is making an impact. WRTV spoke to Angela Teusch who is a graduate of the program.
"I came in here, ya know, after ya know some bumps and bruises in the road of my life and kind of lost the women that I was before," said Teusch. "I've always been a hardworking, independent, ya know, very prideful in my work type of woman and I had lost that."
But Teusch is finding herself again in the kitchen working alongside fellow IN2WORK participants.
This program is 450 hours of working in all areas of the kitchen. There is also classroom work and exams.
Derrick Rucker is the food services director for Aramark at IWP and says the women here learn everything from kitchen basics to temperature taking, food handling and public health. They also take inventory and learn the importance of what is called "first in, first out" in the kitchen. And through it all, they have support of their team and mentors.
"We coach them, and we encourage them," says Rucker. "They are prepared to go as they are released into the work field and know how they can make adjustments know how to bring a team together to work together to accomplish one goal."
Rucker says the IN2WORK participants have learned to adapt and adjust procedures and plans due to COVID-19 restrictions and that experience can help them adapt in the workplace when they are released.
Melissa Hess is the program director. She is passionate about helping break down barriers to employment for past offenders because having a stable job can help reduce their chances of returning to prison in the future.
"What it is, is there's so many barriers they have when they are released," says Hess. "What can we do to help them get over some of those barriers?"
Hess says the certifications and job experience can help fill the gap many past offenders have on their resumes while serving time. IN2WORK and Hess help mentor and guide graduates when they are released and Aramark continues to hire on many of these individuals when they are released.
"I would love to have the employers realize that yes, here's somebody that has a barrier against them, but the skills that they've learned is more than what you are going to get with someone else on the streets," says Hess. "Give them a chance, hire them."
That is the message Teusch says she hopes business owners hear as she starts applying for jobs. But even if it takes her longer to find a job because of her record, she says she knows she has the skills it takes to be a good worker.
"At the end of the day, I am just proud of who I am as a worker and ya know, as a coworker," says Hess. "It gives me the confidence to know that when I do get out there and I get a job, I'm ready. And if they would just, ya know, give me a chance I know what I can do and if that first ya know couple of interviews doesn't go as well as I want, I know not to give up because I know my worth. I know what I put in and I know what I've accomplished, so the right job will come for me."
Program participants and graduates also have the opportunity to apply for scholarships and internships.
To learn more about the Aramark IN2WORK program, visit https://www.aramark.com/about-us/blog/building-the-path-for-second-chances.