Cooking class provides Virginia inmates with jobs

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — Go Cook, a cooking class that provides people with jobs after they finish the course, is now being taught at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Erica al-Hajj is one of five women taking the first Go Cook class with Chef Antwon Brinson at the jail.

"I have a family, I have children, so I have goals," said al-Hajj. "Cooking is something we do in our everyday life, so why not perfect it?"

Al-Hajj said she hopes to make a career out of the skills she is learning in the class.

"Chef says that practice doesn't make perfect. It makes permanent, so if I can be permanently great at cooking, I can make a career out of it, as well as a home," she said.

Each of the women will be released within six weeks after the program, which was a requirement for them to be able to take the class. Once released, they will be given the opportunity to shadow other chefs and be welcomed into a new job.

"It feels great, it makes me feel like I truly have a fighting chance upon my release to just get it right this time," said al-Hajj. "I go out there knowing that I'm going to be able to work, build a career and that my past mistakes are going to affect my future decisions."

Brinson said this class will hopefully stop a cycle.

"The common thing that we see trending was that they got out of jail and they couldn't find opportunities," said Brinson. "And a lot of them end up going back into jail once or twice because they just couldn't figure it out. We found a way to bridge the gap."

The class meets three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Brinson teaches them not only how to cook, but hospitality and life skills too.

"The goal with the life skills piece is really to help people transition from 'I have a job' to 'I have a career,'" said Brinson. "And really connect the skills that they already have and teach them how they can apply those skills to become a career professional."

Al-Hajj said the class is the perfect mix of tough love.

"It's a very intensive program, but he's teaching us that this is not just a class it's a way of life," she said. "He's teaching us no matter what the situation to ask as many questions as possible because the only wrong questions are the ones we don't ask. So it's a great opportunity for every single one of us and he's an awesome teacher."

Al-Hajj said her long-term goal is to open a restaurant/nightclub with its own taxi service.

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