Jail jobs program teaches pizza-making to Franklin County House of Correction inmates

Last modified: Wednesday, February 03, 2016

GREENFIELD — James “JR” Kelley said he’s always been interested in food, and once he’s released from the Franklin County House of Correction, where he’s been serving time for a little more than a year, he’ll leave with a new skill — pizza making.

Kelley is among a handful of inmates participating in the jail’s new vocational program that teaches the men how to make and market pizza. The goal, according to Sheriff Christopher Donelan, is to give inmates an opportunity to learn skills they can use once they’re released.

Kelley stood next to Gary Palazzo — another inmate — at a stainless steel counter in the jail’s kitchen Friday morning, both donning blue latex gloves, hair nets and tan prison uniforms. The two pulled trays of pizza crust, which they had prepared the day before, from a large metal rack and topped the shells with sauce, cheese, meat and a variety of vegetables. Then, they packaged the “take and bake” pies up in plastic wrap and put them in boxes.

The pizzas are available for staff to purchase on a weekly basis. The prep work, including blanching the crust, is done on Thursday morning, and everything else is assembled early Friday. Each box comes with instructions on the top for how to bake the pizza at home.

Donelan said the program is relatively new, starting about a month ago when the kitchen staff got some pizza stones and started periodically making pizzas.

“They weren’t half bad, so some folks came up with the idea of using this as an opportunity to give many of our kitchen workers an opportunity to learn that particular skill of making pizzas, with the idea that it was a skill they could use after they got released,” he said. “The director of the kitchen, Rob Hicks, was really excited about it and it was small talk, and the small talk developed into a program.”

According to Hicks, whose official title is assistant deputy superintendent in charge of Food Services, inmates typically make eight to 12 pizzas per week, but that number has been growing.

“This week is busier and I’m anticipating the Super Bowl will be busier, as well,” he said.

Donelan said the program has been a hit among inmates and staff alike, and said he himself leaves with a pizza nearly every weekend. Staff must place and pay for their orders by Thursday morning and the pies are available for pickup Friday morning.

“The people carrying pizzas out of here on Friday are smiling from ear to ear because dinner is taken care of,” he said. “A lot of positive reviews. They’re very good pizzas.”

Donelan said inmates are chosen for all vocational programs based on their interests, behavior and skills. Those in the pizza program are a subset of inmates on wthe kitchen staff, he said.

“I think they’re pretty proud of themselves. They’re engaged in something they know we’re all paying attention to and it’s an opportunity for interaction between the staff and the inmates and typically that’s always favorable,” he said. “I think they feel pretty proud when they hear people walking around on Monday saying how good their pizza is.”

Palazzo, who is in the Pretrial Unit, said although he doesn’t plan to look for work in a restaurant once he’s released, he’s enjoying the program and watching its popularity grow among staff.

“It’s fun, it’s different. It definitely breaks up the time,” he said. “This is different than what I’m used to. On the street I’m a mechanic.”

Kelley said he and Palazzo were two of the first to be selected for the program and said he’s glad that he’ll be leaving with the new skill. He’s currently in D-Pod, the drug treatment unit of the jail.

“I’ve always been interested in food. I used to work at Foster’s bakery as a kid,” he said. “I like (the program). It gives me something different to do.”

Donelan said the program complements the ServSafe certification that’s already offered to inmate kitchen staff.

“This would give them a particular skill to go with it and make them marketable as an employee when they leave here,” he said.

Cheese pizzas are sold for $6 each, with an additional $0.75 per topping. According to Donelan, that’s enough to cover the cost of the materials so nothing has to come out of his budget, and inmates get $1 for each pizza they make, which is put into an account they’ll gain access to upon release.

He added he doesn’t want anyone to think the jail is trying to compete with restaurants in town and said the program won’t expand much beyond where it’s at now.

“This is an entirely internal program for internal staff only. It’s nothing that’s available to the public,” he said. “We’re trying to train potential employees, not compete with local restaurants.”

Donelan said recently the kitchen manager has also started sending out weekly emails including a weekly pizza special. This week’s was a reuben pizza topped with thousand island sauce, sauerkraut and pastrami, and next week’s will be buffalo chicken pizza with blue cheese.

“Part of it is to kind of put the guys working in the program into the mindset of what it’s like to be in the restaurant business as far as marketing, being creative and ways to keep your customers interested in what you’re doing and how to do that — through advertising, through weekly specials,” Donelan said. “Hopefully the end result is some of these guys will go to a local restaurant or pizza house, apply for a job and get it because they have experience.”


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