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Sharon Richardson learned to cook in prison. Now she brings these lessons outside


Back to school is a difficult journey … but we hold the hands of the sisters who come behind us and we create a chain that can never be broken. I thank God every day for this gift of community which has been given to me. It didn’t seem like a gift when I walked through it, but now that I’m home I give this gift freely. I will take women with me.

When I was inside … my mom got really sick. It was in my 18th year, I was entering my 19th year. I had the choice of either going to his bedside and saying goodbye to him, or going to the funeral. I chose to go for the bedside visit. I was living in an honor unit and the officer allowed women to cook, so when I came back we all sat and ate and we cried, we laughed and we ate. Just Soul Catering and Re-Entry Rocks come from this moment.

The cafeteria food inside … was so bad. That processed food is almost part of the punishment, maybe it is. You are given this food which could eventually give you high blood pressure, diabetes, possibly cancer. It’s horrible. But when you’re hungry, you eat. Just Soul is definitely helping to change the way formerly incarcerated women eat.

When we received food packages from outside … we cooked and shared with people who did not have visits, packages. Food is life changing, it’s a motivator. It’s a way to share, a way to give. For incarcerated women, we used this; we didn’t know what we were doing, what it meant and how it could be used in the life after.

Inside, I learned to do … chicken, fish and curry, and different styles of food that I was exposed to growing up. Sometimes you’re sitting down eating something really good – let’s just say mac and cheese and some good barbecued chicken – and you spend a day laughing and talking about being free. Just when everyone is so happy, the memory comes back to someone who lost their child or lost their mom while I was inside. The food is there – it has done its job – but sadness comes, then happiness returns. It’s like yin and yang.

Sharing food feels like … healing. Incarceration, domestic violence, trauma. People say, “Food? How does food have anything… ”It’s all to do with it. Even if these things are happening, you have to eat, you have to live. Maybe someone is lying on their bed and just turned 25 years old. You bring them the food, “Baby, you have to eat. ” “I do not want to.” “But you have to. It’ll give you strength. And once you’re done there’s more. Come into the kitchen with us, hang out. We’ll cry with you.”

We’re just a small non-profit organization right now … and a small restaurant business, but we’re big in spirit. Once you are a part of Re-Entry Rocks and Just Soul Catering, you are an alum forever. When we hope to one day become an incredible organization that can turn into a foundation, we can fund the women who will become entrepreneurs. We want to be able to tell them, “You don’t have to stay on Re-Entry Rocks and Just Soul forever. Do your own thing; we have you. “

To continue doing this work, we need … our own space. It would look like this amazing commercial kitchen. You could see the sign that said, “We did it. It would have an office space where we interact with people from the outside; we don’t even have our own phone now. We would have our computer room. We would have a dining room where we could all eat, separate from the kitchen, and maybe a cafe to invite the community in – take three or four people from the street, introduce them to Just Soul and say, “We’re going. to teach you how to bake cornbread today.

We would have pictures on the wall … of our graduation ceremonies and the women walking through the door with a certificate and letter in hand, setting up their own business. We already have the photos; we just need our own wall to put them up.



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