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  • Michelle Gowan

When Baking is Rehabilitation



Everyone who mixes butter and sugar together will usually admit that baking is therapy. But, could it have an even higher calling? One of the greatest blessings of creating a Cookie School has been the wide scope of amazing people I have met, that I otherwise would never have known. I recently received an email from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Bakery and Pastry Arts Program. This school "prepares students in all aspects of commercial baking and enables them to learn valuable skills that translate into both their personal and professional lives on the outside. Each participant receives a certificate of achievement from San Bernardino County Schools and Programs after completing the required 360-hour curriculum."



The bakery and pastry arts instructor, Kathryn Betancur, who is a member of the American Culinary Federation and the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates (ACSFA), has been working with this population for over 20 years with a total of 27 years working in the baking field. Her classes at Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center enable inmates to receive their state food handler’s license and to learn essential trade skills that will allow them to seek out employment once released. The classes offered cover a variety of skills, from sanitation and using scales to operating industrial baking machinery and perfecting advanced baking techniques such as fondant work and cake blocking. The bakery provides food for both the day to day facility needs as well as major events such as award ceremonies, the California State Sheriff’s Association Conference, Search and Rescue operations, the Sheriff’s Ball and community gatherings like the Sheriff’s Rodeo where they can end up feeding over 1,500 people. The bakery can end up producing over 6,000 loaves of bread, 19,000 bagels, 43,000 dinner rolls, and 19,000 cookies in a single week to meet the demand of the four jail facilities that fall within their jurisdiction.

Betancur, who is very passionate about her work, stresses that her classes also prepare students for jobs outside of the baking field as participants learn teamwork, how to take orders and critiques, and how to adhere to a strict schedule. Her students have gone on to find jobs in restaurants, grocery stores, independent bakeries, and management. This program continues to help reduce recidivism rates as well as enrich the lives of inmates while they are still incarcerated.

I follow lots of celebrity bakers on Facebook, but one my favorites is Joseph Thee Baker. He frequently testifies that he got his training in prison and now that he is out, he bakes for large events, teaches classes and operates a highly successful YouTube channel. He is a contributing member of society because someone like Kathryn Betancur invested in him while he was locked up. I am not real sure how she found Cookie Nip but I am glad she did. The work that she is doing is so significant and I am honored that she reached out to me. So, the next time I get in my kitchen and decide to mix a potion together I need to be cognizant that it could be contributing to improving the world. You should, too. I do not want to go to prison in San Bernardino, but if I do, I want to be in this class!

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