Baking behind bars
Life in a local jail can be mind-numbing, and prisoners often return to their communities without job skills. Now, however, a lock-up in Charlottesville is offering inmates a chance to try something new and delicious.
Samuel Spera has spent many years cooking, and he says there are two important considerations in a commercial kitchen.
"Being a chef, what you’re always looking for is to raise the quality and lower the price."
And in the busy kitchen of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail, Spera started looking closely at the bottom line and settled on bread. It would be cheaper, he concluded, to bake their own.
"We were paying almost 29 cents a roll," he recalls. These rolls are 13 cents each, and the demi rolls that he’s making right now are 17 cents each, so there’s a big savings."
And inmates were anxious to become bakers. We spoke with Damien Durden, Corey Minor and Brenden Briggs.
"This is my first time!" says Durden. "It’s good. I’ve got a wonderful teacher. The best part is watching people eat it and enjoy it."
"I love the smell of fresh-baking bread," Minor adds. "I also like the mechanics of it – the fixing and playing with the dough."
"It’s fun. It’s soothing." says Briggs. You find it’s like art almost. You come in here and it passes time for one, and then you kind of take satisfaction in what you get out of it.
A stand mixer makes this job easier – eliminating the need to knead, but Spera tells his students to watch carefully and make sure dough is ready for the oven.
"You have to let it rest, and then it will double in size, and then you have to punch the dough down," Spera explains. "Then you apportion it, and then you proof it again, and then you bake it.
Stays in local jails are usually on the short side – no more than a year. By then, the bakers-in-training hope to also master cakes, biscuits and corn bread.