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Inmates cook up a fresh start in jail kitchen

SPANISH FORK — Some inmates at the Utah County Jail don’t want to return to their lives of crime that got them incarcerated in the first place.

Instead of sitting behind bars, they’re standing behind a counter and in front of a grill.

Step into the cafeteria at the Utah County Jail, and you won’t see handcuffs or iron bars, but a bunch of men in front of hot stoves and food counters.

“And if you’ve got to be in jail, why not come and cook some good food and learn some stuff?” said inmate Dalton Dumas, 25. “We get to learn a lot.”

He his fellow inmates are learning how to be chefs and run restaurants.

“Right when you get here, you wash dishes, then you move up to pots and pans, and then you move up to cooking and cleaning,” Dumas said.

These are skills they can use when they get out of jail and the criminal mentality.

“Once you’ve done it for so long, it becomes a part of your life. That’s what they try to break you of in this whole entire program,” Dumas said.

These inmates used to deal in drugs. Now, in the jail’s RISE program to rehabilitate drug offenders, they make food.

But Tyler Wielechowski, 24, is honest about his skills.

“I can’t cook much. I’m still learning how to put peanut butter on bread,” he laughed. “I still put metal pots in a microwave.”

Wielechowski has a new favorite dish.

“So far, I think it was the ribs we had last week with a mustard base,” he said.

I had the chicken cordon bleu, scalloped potatoes, and green beans. Also on the menu: Chile Verde, Chile Colorado, plus a complement of baked goods.

T. Taylor, 37, is learning teamwork.

“I’m learning how to socialize with other people. That’s something I struggled with, and that’s what got me into a lot of bad, negative activities on the streets,” he said.

Colby Grant, 28, hopes his new kitchen skills means a new way of life for him.

“The fact of facing prison right now, and that’s definitely a place I don’t want to go,” he said. “I have some things lined up with treatment.”

His colleagues are improving his outlook.

“Just sitting around, joking around, but still getting the job done,” Grant said. “It makes time go by easier.”

Kyran Henderson, 26, likes the interaction with the jail staff and deputies.

“They like the food a lot. They give us a lot of respect,” he said. “Every day they come through the line so you talk back and forth.”

The interaction has taught Henderson about his customers.

“If they order a hamburger with no bun, I already know what kind of cheese they want on it,” Henderson said.

But the kitchen inmates’ supervisor, Deputy Jason Heidel, admits it took some time for the deputies to trust what they were eating, and who was making it.

“Food is a very personal thing,” he said. “You’re creating something from nothing essentially, and someone’s going to eat it and nourish their body with it.”

Heidel was a chef before he got into law enforcement, where he thought he would take on the world and be tough with bad guys.

“I found out that I was much better working in the kitchen, being able to take my skills that I have and help these guys become better people,” Heidel said.

He reminds us that they’ll be our neighbors again one day.