I don’t talk about it much, but I studied political science at Northwestern University and worked for a year in Washington D.C. for a non-profit watchdog group. My belief about power, then and now, is similar to that of Peter Parker’s uncle in Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” So when the Better Government Association asked for a video that could be used as a means for fundraising, my company Three Story Media was all in. The fact that many who work at the association were former Chicago Tribune employees with whom I used to work was an added plus.
The Better Government Association, for context, is a full-service watchdog organization. This means that not only do they conduct investigative journalism projects in Illinois, but they advocate and involve citizens to keep up the pressure on state and local officials once those projects are published. So they appear in the State Capitol in front of legislators, and they sue the government when needed. They’re the only non-profit in Illinois dedicated to government transparency. And they do amazing work.
After many years on the street in Chicago as a photojournalist, one of the concerns that I heard consistently in underserved communities was the need not just for good jobs, but for opportunities for those getting out of jail. It made no sense to me that someone who paid the penalty for their crime and who wanted to rebuild their life would be denied that opportunity because of their jail record. So when I was approached to do to a video for Recipe for Change, it was meant to be.
Recipe for Change is a non-profit organization that provides mentoring and guidance to non-violent detainees in the jail and prison system through culinary, fine arts and life skills training. It operates an active educational program five days per week in the Cook County Jail. The heart of the program is Chef Bruno Abate, who received a “call from God” that led him to start the program. He doesn’t just give cooking advice, but life advice. An equal dose of inspiration.
Detainees can earn a certificate that sets them up to work in restaurants once they re-enter society. Those who go through the program don’t come back. It’s that effective. That, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, is very unusual. There are currently creating a program in the women’s jail.
The production team was comprised of myself, producer Kelly Sullivan, my co-creative partner Laura Husar Garcia and Johnny McGuire, who provided the aerial cinematography that you must see at the end.
If you know anyone who owns and operates restaurants or who would like to donate cooking equipment, please ask them to reach out to the organization through their website, recipeforchangeproject.org.
They could transform a life and change a family for generations.