By George F. Will
The man at the front of the room in the prison here is talking about the institution’s culinary and hospitality training that will help some of his fellow inmates “give back to the community.” He will never get back to any community; he is serving a “double life” sentence. But because he is not going anywhere, he can provide leadership to those who are. Some will go to the 35 Cleveland restaurants that are eager to help themselves, and reduce recidivism while doing so, by hiring those who learn in prison to serve the food plate from the left and to remove it from the right. Small things learned inside can help people stay outside.
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Here, amid Ohio farmland planted thick with corn and churches, Gary Mohr’s work of reclaiming felons is working, with many assists from those churches. His title — director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction — needs another word: “Reintegration.” Meaning the preparation for reentry into society of people like Walter Atwood.
He is 37, tall, thin and played Othello in a prison production assisted by nearby Oberlin College. He has been incarcerated for almost 21 years, since being convicted of, among other things, aggravated robbery, attempted rape and attempted murder. His next parole hearing is in 14 months, but whenever he returns to society he will be ready for restaurant work, even, he says proudly, “in ‘the front of the house,’ as a host,” perhaps wearing white gloves, and certainly trained “so you don’t infringe on patrons’ space or time or emotions.”