“A felony in your past is no reason to discount your future.” Those words came to us from “Matthew ,”* a man who served time with the Indiana Department of Corrections, where we have long been the food service provider.
Matthew is more than one of the people we serve. He was a student and a scholarship recipient in our vocational training program, IN2WORK. Each of these accomplishments, as he put it, “is a stepping stone along the way to becoming a more productive individual.”
Creating healthy, nutritious meals is one of many ways we show our dedication to the communities we serve. When it comes to our work at state, county, and municipal correctional facilities
, we’re deeply committed to playing a role in rehabilitating incarcerated individuals. IN2WORK is a prominent part of that commitment.
“We treat incarcerated people as we would any other consumer—with dignity and respect,” says Nicole McVaugh, Program Director for IN2WORK. “Many returning citizens struggle to transition back into society. Through education and employment opportunities, we can help them sustain new lives for themselves and their families.”
Breaking the Cycle
The challenges are very real: One-quarter of formerly incarcerated individuals don’t have a high school diploma, GED, or college experience
. Their unemployment rate hovers at 27%. More than half will find themselves re-incarcerated
within three years of release.
A lack of formal education is one of several challenges facing formerly incarcerated individuals as they attempt to re-enter the workforce.
IN2WORK was born of the idea that we could make a meaningful difference
in breaking this cycle of recidivism. And it’s already making an impact: Since its launch we’ve seen recidivism rates for participants reduced by as much as 30%.
All incarcerated individuals assigned to our kitchens and commissaries, as well as others in the facility, are potentially eligible for IN2WORK. The program helps these men and women learn the fundamentals of working in a food service or retail warehouse environment. Combined with practical work experience and a nationally recognized certificate, these skills put them on stronger footing to re-enter the workforce.
“Serving men and women who are incarcerated is one of the great privileges of my career,” shares Betsy Johnson, Vice President of Marketing, Correctional Services. “The way we serve this line of business may be different, but our overarching approach remains the same. We want to impact these individuals in a way that provides them with opportunity.”
Currently we operate IN2WORK at 139 locations across 22 states, and we have identified nearly 200 more locations where the program will be implemented.
IN2WORK has had a tangible impact in its first dozen years, and we have identified nearly 200 additional locations for expansion.
The Full Experience
IN2WORK includes three phases of either food service or retail warehouse training. Each track starts with teaching the respective basics, followed by management skills. The final phase of the food service track culminates in the ServSafe certification from the National Restaurant Association, while the retail path offers a comparable certificate. All told, the curriculum represents hours of instruction and hands-on training, taught by a select group of Aramark trainers.
“With IN2WORK, our operators are now educators. We take care to attract the right talent—people who understand they’re part of something bigger,” Johnson states.
From there, high-performing graduates can apply for a chance to work alongside Aramark professionals while still incarcerated. This internship application process requires a resume, job interview, and references—good practice for future employment.
IN2WORK was one of several programs that "Hannah" completed during her sentence at Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility for Women. As an intern, she nurtured her passion for cooking and baking. After her release, she was hired at the Putnamville Correctional Facility, where she now oversees a team of kitchen workers and instructs the IN2WORK program. “You won’t just be impacting people’s lives; they’re going impact your life also—in a major way,” she says.
IN2WORK is adaptable and can augment any existing re-entry and education program a correctional facility may have. We manage the culinary and retail training, order the materials, and track student progress for turn-key logistics.
“Our clients can see a difference in how the kitchen and commissary operations run,” McVaugh shares. “IN2WORK students apply everything they learn throughout the curriculum. There is a dedication to cleanliness and safety.”
Like Matthew, IN2WORK graduates are eligible for scholarships to either continue their education inside the correctional facility or attend an accredited institution post-release. These scholarships can go toward part-time or full-time undergraduate studies, even trade school. For example, “Troy” used an IN2WORK scholarship to further his career goals and become the first member of his family to attend any type of post-secondary education. IN2WORK also includes resources to help returning citizens secure employment.
“We are committed to being a part of the rehabilitation process for those serving time—because we believe in second chances,” says Tim Barttrum, President and CEO, Correctional Services. “My hope is that graduates of the IN2WORK program will become productive members of their families and communities, and that long-term there will be a significant reduction in repeat offenders within our corrections systems.”
More Than a Certificate
Practical skills are critical for future career success, but IN2WORK’S emotional and psychological benefits are equally noteworthy. When our students and interns don their IN2WORK hats, it sets them apart from the everyday corrections uniforms. With that comes self-confidence, comradery, and a feeling of accomplishment.
“Many people in this program haven’t had a lot of success in life,” notes McVaugh. “You can see the pride our students hold.”
The benefits of IN2WORK are both tangible and intangible, and they tend to multiply the longer participants engage with the program.
Such is the case with Edgar, who is in his fourth year as an IN2WORK intern at Pendleton Correctional Facility (and the very reason we extended the internship beyond the initial two years). With his projected release date more than 20 years away, the work gives him a sense of purpose. Edgar has contributed to the latest revision of our food service curriculum and goes out of his way to help his fellow classmates learn the harder concepts. “I am appreciated for the work that I do. I am not just another person, I am part of a team,” Edgar says.
Our nourishing menus are developed by registered dietitians, making food both the vehicle and the fuel for change within the corrections system. “Health, skills, and jobs are three important components for preventing recidivism,” Johnson adds. “It all comes back to creating a positive environment. Everyone benefits from better food experiences.”
A New Path
We proudly serve people who are incarcerated, and we’re proud to help put them on the path toward new opportunities. More than 5,000 people have graduated from IN2WORK since 2009, and we aim to reach 10,000 graduates annually by the end of 2023.
Says McVaugh: “Second chances can mean everything to one person.”
*Participants’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.