Inmates at Devore jail learn how to bake their way back into society

Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center inmate Jake Lewis, 30, slams a roll on the table to remove air prior to baking Thursday. Inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore work in the facility’s bakery June 15, 2017.  The bakery helps inmates work together and also prepares them for a possible job once released. The baked goods are distributed throughout the jails in San Bernardino County.
Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center inmate Jake Lewis, 30, slams a roll on the table to remove air prior to baking Thursday. Inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore work in the facility’s bakery June 15, 2017. The bakery helps inmates work together and also prepares them for a possible job once released. The baked goods are distributed throughout the jails in San Bernardino County. Will Lester-SCNG/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center inmate Jason Mitchell brushes egg wash onto rolls prior to baking Thursday. Inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore work in the facility’s bakery June 15, 2017. The bakery helps inmates work together and also prepares them for a possible job once released. The baked goods are distributed throughout the jails in San Bernardino County.
Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center inmate Jason Mitchell brushes egg wash onto rolls prior to baking Thursday. Inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore work in the facility’s bakery June 15, 2017. The bakery helps inmates work together and also prepares them for a possible job once released. The baked goods are distributed throughout the jails in San Bernardino County. Will Lester-SCNG/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

DEVORE >> Inmates kneading a way to earn some dough when they get released from jail are offered an opportunity to learn a new trade by working in the bakery at Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore.

Inmate bakers learn how to produce all of the baked goods that are distributed daily to the county’s three main jails and at special functions held by sheriff’s staff.

“We bake hundreds of thousands of cookies, loaves of bread, dinner rolls and over a million bagels each year that feed inmates here as well as West Valley and the High Desert detention centers,” food services supervisor Hallie James said. “They also bake cakes, pies, cobblers and brownies for staff dining facilities and special events.”

Once their time in the bakery is completed, inmates become credentialed bakers in order to help them find a life outside of incarceration.

“We’ve had some inmates get jobs at Martha Green’s in Redlands, some at Stater Bros., at Costco and some who cater on the side,” baking instructor Kathryn Betancur said. “We offer the tools for success, and it’s on an individual basis if they choose to use these tools to their advantage.”

Inmates start their days about 3 a.m., preparing for the baking, which is in full swing by 7 a.m.

By 11 a.m., most of the baked goods are packaged and ready to ship out by truck. On any given day, inmates bake 2,000 loaves of wheat bread, 6,000 wheat bagels, 8,000 rolls and 8,000 cookies, Betancur said.

One inmate who is scheduled to be released shortly said the bakery program has made him think about becoming a professional baker.

“It’s an art. You’re creating cakes and different stuff sometimes, just letting your imagination and creativity loose,” Armando Corona, 35, of Los Angeles said. “I wouldn’t mind pursuing this when I get out if someone gave me a chance, but I’m a plumber by trade, so I’ll more than likely do this on the side.”

Jail staff say these work programs have several purposes.

“First and foremost, the inmates come away from this training with the knowledge and experience of seasoned bakers,” sheriff’s Lt. Carlos Espinoza said. “They learn a trade that could change their lives forever.”

The program is only one of several vocational programs at the jail which provide training that will help inmates earn a living once they are released.

The jail also has inmates that makeup a culinary arts team of cooks and teams of firefighters who respond to any number of crises in San Bernardino County, utilizing their newly learned trades. At one time, there was an automotive repair program, but that has drifted away due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

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Betancur said her bakers are the reason she loves her job so much.

“I don’t coddle them. No matter what they’ve done to find themselves locked up, they’re people and everyone makes mistakes,” she said. “But I’m so very proud of all of their accomplishments. I’m 65 years old, and I love coming to work with them every single day.”

Sheriff John McMahon is also a giant supporter of the occupational training happening at Glen Helen.

“I have always been a supporter of inmate programs,” McMahon said. “The skills that prisoners learn during their incarceration provides them with an advantage they can use to find jobs after their release, and it also gives them a sense of self-worth.”

Cakes on pedestals, fruit-filled pastries and pies, warm freshly baked rolls are displayed when the inmate bakery caters events, but it’s the brownies that many of the sheriff’s employees crave at their functions.

“These are the best brownies I’ve ever had,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said during a recent event. “These guys work so hard in the bakery, and it’s evident that they are honing their newfound craft.”

McMahon is enthusiastic for the success of the inmates in life after incarceration as a result of the occupational programs at Glen Helen.

“If one in 10 inmates finds a job on the outside that requires the skills they learn while on the inside, that is huge,” he said.

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About the Author

Doug Saunders

Doug Saunders covers breaking news and public safety for The Sun. Reach the author at dsaunders@scng.com or follow Doug on Twitter: @crimeshutterbug.