Local business helps inmates serve up success with barista training

LONDON, OHIO (WCMH) – A local business in Columbus is trying to help reduce recidivism rates by actually getting into Central Ohio prisons.

It’s a program that aims to unlock the potential of inmates and help them get on their feet once their sentence is up.

“It’s time to do something different,” said inmate Willie Prater.

He’s been in and out of prison for 15 years. He has 59 days left on his sentence at the London Correctional Institute.

“This is it. I can’t do no more of this,” he said.

But, thanks to a relatively new program he can add a new line on his resume: “barista.”

Specialty coffee and smoothies may have been the last thing you expected to see inside a prison.

“Prison’s a rough place,” said warden Jeffrey Noble. “Something like this kind of turns the temperature down a little bit.”

Inmates and staff can purchase drinks from Coffee Crafters, a coffee shop located inside the prison.

“Coffee Crafters Academy is a barista training program that manages coffee shops inside of prison around Central Ohio,” said Coffee Crafters operations manager Nick Hirsch.

But, its goal isn’t just about becoming a barista behind bars.

“We just found that the coffee industry is one that we can leverage to teach them some of the more transferable skills they can use within any industry,” said Hirsch.

He said they also offer entrepreneurial programs and help inmates get jobs once they get out.

“We’re just trying to ease the transition from life inside the walls to life outside,” said Hirsch.

Prater plans to eventually start his own restaurant, but might start with a small coffee bar with help from Coffee Crafters.

“Every goal I set for my short and long term goals, I try to stick to this plan and stay with what I’ve got going and don’t get drifted back into what I was,” said Prater. “Be able to go out there and make it and build on what we learned from here.”

Noble said about 70 percent of their inmates will eventually return to society.

“The better trained they are, the better prepared to reenter society they are, the less likely they are to come back,” said Noble.

Thomas Hedges has been in prison 40 years. He said Coffee Crafters has changed his attitude for the better.

“There’s a lot of us that don’t have nothing out there to lean on, but this here will give me something to build a foundation upon employment, get back into mainstream society,” he said. “This is a job I could take to the street when I get out of here and make something of this.”

Hirsch said that they’re looking to build relationships with established businesses outside of the prison system to help funnel their graduates be funneled into jobs in the local community.

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