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A few years into his sentence, Jeff began working in the prison's kitchen washing pots and pans. Although the work was strenuous, the rewards made all the suds and sweat worthwhile.

Jeff was promoted from dishwasher to cook, and fellow prisoners began to appreciate his culinary skills. "I was being praised for my food like when I was on the street [and] I was praised for having good drugs," he says. "I was experimenting with food and putting out great pastries and entrees. People were, like, 'Wow, is Jeff in the kitchen today?' It felt good to get those pats on the back for something positive."

Determined to "be somebody" once he was released, Jeff made it his mission to become a chef. After reading an article in USA Today about the top black chefs in America, Jeff began writing the chefs letters from prison, asking for a job upon his release. Chef Robert Gadsby and Chef Sterling Burpee replied. They offered Jeff a job as dishwasher in their Beverly Hills restaurant, and he accepted.

In 1996—after only having to serve nine years of his sentence—Jeff began his first job in the restaurant business. Slowly, he worked his way up the ladder.

Years later, he found himself running a restaurant in one of Las Vegas's most famous hotels! "I feel blessed," he says. "There [were] so many people who helped me, and I got so many great opportunities after my release from prison. ... I'm very grateful and humble."
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FROM: Why They Beat the Odds
Published on March 01, 2007

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