Utah State Prison provides opportunity for inmates to gain work experience

Melissa Taylor
Capital West News

DRAPER- A café right outside the Utah State Prison gates may seem like an unlikely spot for a quick bite to eat, but the Serving Time Café—in operation since 2009—has an affordable, yet filling menu.

The cafe is the brain-child of Carolyn Price, a correctional supervisor and who proposed the cafe as a way to provide inmates with the real-world experience of working in a fast-paced environment. With the cafe opening, Price took on the additional responsibilities of functioning as cafe manager.

“It’s a different atmosphere than inside the prison,” Price said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to learn basic ethics and work skills.”IMG_0541

The café is located in a double-wide trailer adjacent to the prison and serves breakfast and lunch with menu items ranging from burgers and fries to Navajo tacos.

Currently, there is a female-only staff of nine employees.

“The men have options to work other jobs outside the prison, like construction,” Price said, “but for the women, this is their only option.”

Staff members of the café go through an application and screening process before they are able to work in the café and applicants must meet level-5 requirements. Level-5 is the highest privilege for inmates and only individuals with a clean behavioral record and no write-ups can qualify.

With a high bar, the café is struggling to find level-5 women to qualify for café positions, Price said.

Brandi Hamblin has been working at the café for just over one month and is scheduled to be released from the prison on parole in June.

“They don’t have to give us this job,” Hamblin said, adding that it make the inmates value it more. Her experience working at the café has helped her learn responsibility and gain work ethic, she said.

“It makes us feel responsible. Before, I didn’t want to work or be responsible. This is helping rehabilitate my life into a normal function,” Hamblin said.

Julia Higbee, also an inmate and staff member of almost one year, arrives at 6:30 in the morning on café operating days to begin setting up for opening. She makes $1.65/hr.

Higbee had no prior work experience in the food industry, and she said that working at the café has taught her skills that will help her prepare her for transition into the real world. “We’re out here dealing with the public,” Higbee said. “I’m ready to go straight into working when I get out.”

“You feel like a productive member of society.” Higbee said. “If I can do this here, I can do anything out there.” She became emotional and added that working at the cafe makes her want to be good.

The café has a relatively high turnover rate, as many of the women are hired only months before they are released from prison. Price has kept in contact with a few of the women who previously worked in the café and are now leading successful lives outside the prison.

Twice a month, the café has “inmate meal days,” and the prepare meals for the working inmates inside the prison. Last week, the staff prepared 254 inmate meals on top of their normal sales.

Although they stay busy during the week, Serving Time Café also caters. The cafe has served business lunches, conferences, parties, and more.

The café operates from 8 a.m. to 2p.m. on weekdays, and is closed on holidays. They are located at 14072 Pony Express Road, adjacent to the prison.

Restaurant Review:

Among the items of the menu are the Prison Blues Burger and the Steakout Breakfast Bagel. One of the most highly recommended menu items is the Philly Cheesesteak.

IMG_0554The sandwich is grilled to order with thinly-sliced steak, onions, and bell peppers on a buttery French roll.

The menu is affordable, with the most expensive item being only $5.49. Each menu item can be made into a combo (fries and a drink) for only $2.00 more and customers have the option of battered fries, curly fries, onion rings, or tater     tots for their combo.

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