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Nonprofit Aims To Help Previously Incarcerated Youth Through Culinary Arts

One nonprofit is rewriting the ending for youth who were previously incarcerated.

Drive Change

Drive Change, a Brooklyn, New York nonprofit organization, aims to provide “culinary training to teens and young adults who have previously been incarcerated or impacted by the criminal justice system.”

As the year goes on, fellows are part of a paid, four-month program where they learn the kitchen basics, such as proper knife skills and how to sauté.

Additionally, the organization provides mental health services as well as professional development to ensure more stable options for its fellows.

“People will always have misconceptions,” Dupree Wilson, a culinary associate with Drive Change, said. “…People just think we’re all, like, violent murderers and killers who don’t have no self control, which is not true.”

Wilson started with Drive Change as a fellow back in 2014 when the organization had its first cohort.

Drive Change

Wilson was able to rise up and capture commercial kitchen success after finishing the program, But he lost his cooking job during the pandemic. Still, he found his way back to drive change and how serves as a mentor to current fellows.

“I always say I go bad blook. Like my pops went to prison, his pops went to prison, I’ve been in prison. It’s a cycle,” he said. “With my son, I don’t want him to have that experience. … My motivation for everything I do is to make sure my son grows up better than I did.”

Wilson’s story is very similar to others. According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 1.2 million people were incarcerated as of Dec. 31, 2022, and finding employment can be tough after that experience. Just 40% of incarcerated people released since 2010 were able to find full-time employment, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Also, the school-to-prison pipeline that impacts Black and Latino children disproportionately can lead to the criminal legal system, according to the ACLU. A study from the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center reported that in many states, as many as 80% of juvenile offenders cycle into the system within just three years of their initial release.

“A lot of times, people are being incarcerated because of lack of something: lack of access to employment or food. Maybe the education system is broken for a variety of different things, and so we need to tackle the systemic issue,” Kalilah Moon, Drive Chang’s executive director, said.


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