Raleigh Restaurant Hires Work Release Inmates

OCTOBER 29, 1996

Raleigh - Employers who are looking for hardworking, trustworthy and polite workers need look no further than prison. That's how Richard Watkins, general manager of Big Ed's Restaurant, describes the inmates he has hired through the state's work release program.

"Shortly after we opened Big Ed's in 1989, we hired Bernard and Glenn from Wake Correctional Center," Watkins said. "They were the two best employees I have ever hired."

When the two men were released from prison, Watkins hired both full-time. Bernard has since found other work, and Glenn, who was in prison 17 years on a first degree murder conviction, was promoted to kitchen manager and has remained a loyal employee.

"He's got a key to the restaurant and a key to my car, and on snow days he picks up employees to bring them into work." Watkins said. "He has never missed a day of work in eight years. I don't want Glenn hired away, but employers need to know that inmates are good employees who deserve a second chance; and when they do get out, they need money saved up so they're not in the same position as when they went in (to prison)."

Work release inmates are required to pay the state $62.50 a week for rent, plus they pay child support and restitution. The remaining salary is put in a trust fund for the inmates to use upon release from prison.

Big Ed's is one of dozens of restaurants in Raleigh that has used work release inmates.

Karen Temple, Big Ed's manager and a former correctional officer, said the inmates are dependable workers. She has helped a number of women from the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women become waitresses or like Kathy who works at Big Ed's now, a cook in the kitchen.

"When I left NCCIW (N.C. Correctional Institution for Women), I told the women that one day I would be back to help them," Temple said. "It's only a few, but I believe strongly in giving someone a second chance, and Kathy is proud of what she does and she does it right."

In the kitchen, Kathy keeps the morale up because she said she loves talking to people, and she's quick to assure that she does more work than talking.


Richard Watkins, general manager of Big Ed's Restaurant, and work release inmate Kathy prepare for the lunch rush.

"Prison gave me a second chance at life, learning responsibility, studying to get my G.E.D. and learning how to be a better parent," Kathy said. "Six months was just enough time (in prison) to know I don't want to go back...and there's no reason I have to."

Watkins said he has had some employees who are not as cooperative and hard working as the work release inmates. "They just haven't made it there (to prison) yet."