San Quentin Cooks: Program teaches inmates life skills in preparation for the outside

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KGO) -- Join us for a live, interactive Premiere on YouTube here where you can ask our expert questions about the program.

San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California is the state's oldest prison, yet it has developed one of the most innovative prisoner programs in the country teaching inmates basic skills they will need on the outside.

Quentin Cooks was established in 2016 by San Francisco Bay Area food industry volunteers. The program is a 12-week course leading to a Food Handler Certificate from the county, a statewide requirement in any job that requires handling food.

According to a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation fact sheet, "The curriculum emphasizes the personal bonds that are formed between those who prepare food and those who are served. The class also emphasizes teamwork and the ability to work with people of various backgrounds."

RELATED: Rare look inside San Quentin Prison, home of death row

"We incarcerate people, that's that's our primary mission," says Sam Robinson, the prison's public information officer. "However, in that we have a another mission that's very dear and valuable. And we believe it's a huge part of public safety. We offer rehabilitative programming for our inmate population to immerse themselves in dealing with the causative factors that lead them to prison. They will learn some new valuable skills to gain self employment and confidence."

He went on to say, "And we believe that goes along with and reducing the recidivism rate and returning people to community who are contributors and not burdens to society."

RELATED: I-Team: Hear from death row inmates at San Quentin

San Quentin provides more than 80 treatment, education and vocational programs for almost 4,000 prisoners.

ABC7 profiled two recent graduates of the program, Phillip Sims and Ron Simmons.

Both men were incarcerated elsewhere in California, but Sims says being sent to San Quentin finally cleaned him up and made him change for the better.

RELATED: Freed after 26 years on San Quentin's death row, farmworker files suit for false imprisonment

"It is kind of ironic to come to a place with such a bad reputation as prison and get your life together," said Sims. "But for me it was a lifesaver. You know, a couple of times I went to programs on the streets, I didn't succeed. But here I'm further recovered and I never have been so it's a good, it's a good place to turn your life around. It sounds sounds ironic, but it's a good place to get your life on your track. If you're serious."
Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.