12/8/09 1:15 PMNot Just Peeling Potatoes - New York TimesPage 3 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/13/us/13jail.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
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The chefs, Megan Hanson and Rania Long, handed out hairnets, aprons and gloves andassigned each woman a job. Since no knives are allowed, Ms. Long had precut thechicken at home, though the inmates were allowed to use a mandoline (with anonremovable blade) to slice vegetables. And only Ms. Long adjusted the burners on thestove.“It’s completely transformed in here,” Ms. Long said. “And when we sit down to eat, youfeel it too. How they interact with each other and how they work together, it definitely brings out the better qualities in them.”Once the food was on the table, the women observed a minute of silence. Then they sipped iced tea with mint and enjoyed the cooking and talk.But the deeply personal soon became impersonal as the women returned to the pods, where they lined up with the other inmates for a cold lunch served in plastic trays. “I amtrying to save my life,” said Vera Brown Pittman, 38, a convicted crack-cocaine dealer who has been in and out of prison since she was 19.“If I choose to eat more healthy foods and more naturally grown foods,” she added,“maybe my metabolism will change.”Nita Riccardi, 41, who has eight months to go on her sentence for a hit-and-run crime,said “When you eat this food, because it’s real nutritious, you can feel it in every cell of your body, all the way to your fingertips.”But is Nextcourse tilting at windmills, given that 97 percent of the jail’s female inmatesare repeat offenders? The recidivism rate in the Sister program, measured over one year, was 39 percent; the rate for the women who did not participate in the program was 60percent to 70 percent, said Teresa Nelson, a senior manager in the Sheriff’s Department.Of the women in the Sister program who went on to residential drug treatment last year,fewer than half of them completed it.“Not everyone is going to turn their life around on this trip,” said Elyse Graham, theprogram manager for Sister. “But for some, the food thing really lands with them.”“Food,” she said, “can really be a turning point to change lifestyles and health.”
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