“For a long time I didn’t like who I was, and I hid from the truth. Today, I have no shame of my truth.”
Chris sits tall across the big conference table at DC Central Kitchen’s social enterprise hub in Northeast DC. Just a few minutes before, he was making rounds through the kitchen, greeting his colleagues on the production line and offering pours from the hot coffee he picked up in route that morning. He has an air of confidence, and there’s a reason – Chris has come a long way to get to where he is today.
Breaking the cycle
For most of his life, Chris grappled with the effects of an abusive past. During his teens, he fell into a cyclical pattern of drug-related criminal activities that ultimately landed him a 19-year prison sentence at age 42.
Chris eventually caught a break in 2014. After serving 14 years in prison on good standing, his sentence was shortened and Chris was released early. He says this event completely changed his perspective on life. “My debt to society was paid,” he explains. “There’s no need to punish yourself anymore.”
Like many citizens who have paid their debts, though, Chris quickly ran into challenges as he navigated re-entering society. His initial plan was to start parole back home with his family in Hawaii. Chris’s mother, who worried that he might fall back into old habits and negatively influence her grandchildren, told him not to return home quite yet.
“But I’m going to tell you right now,” Chris says. “That was the best thing that my mom did for me. And it was really hard for her.”
Chris changed course and moved to Hope Village, a halfway house in Washington, DC, just a few hours away from his sister, who lived in Fredericksburg, VA.
The move was serendipitous. During his first week at Hope Village, Chris met a recruitment coordinator from DC Central Kitchen at a job fair on site. “It was such a coincidence,” he says. “Two years prior to my release, my goal was to get some culinary experience. And lo and behold it happened.”
Chris enrolled in DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program in 2016. The self-empowerment coursework helped him come to terms with his past, and the culinary training and his internship at The Ritz-Carlton DC gave Chris the culinary know-how he first envisioned years before during incarceration.
“This is good right here”
After graduating from the 14-week training program, Chris was hired on at DC Central Kitchen full-time, working to prepare nutritious meals from scratch for residents at local DC shelters.
Just one year after joining DC Central Kitchen, Chris saved up enough money to take his first vacation to Hawaii to reunite with his family. He mended ties with his mother, whose view of Chris has completely shifted. “She is proud of me now,” he says. “She keeps telling me that.”
Now in his second year on the job, Chris has achieved a new level of self-sufficiency, moving into his own apartment and taking on the additional role of resident manager at the building where he lives.
On his first day in his new apartment, Chris was struck with how far he has come these past few years. “Sitting down in my living room, in my office chair, the whole place hit me,” he says. “All the work I did and actually being there, I thought, ‘this is good right here’.”