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Offenders cook their way back into community at Billings pre-release culinary program

Passages CAP program has certified nearly 90 chefs since 2010
Posted at 10:00 PM, May 26, 2024

BILLINGS — At the Passages pre-release center in Billings there’s a kitchen with a mission that provides structure for women to move from corrections to community.

“We’ve got a roast beef one that we did, we’ve got a couple of veggies, and some gluten-free sandwiches that we’re going to do,” says a busy Passages resident and aspiring chef as she prepares some 300 plus sandwiches for a catered event.

From sack lunch sandwiches to catered tenderloin crostini with chimichurri, this kitchen of 15 female chefs can cook just about anything.

“Today we are doing 325 box lunches for the job fair,” says Travis Dickinson, Alternatives Chef & Food Services Manager as he helps the women get their catered boxed lunches out the door and on the way to the MetraPark venue.

These chefs are 15 of 235 offenders residing at Passages, a women's pre-release and recovery center located on South 27th Street in Billings, not far from the Montana Women’s Prison.

It’s an alternative to jail, designed to free up space, save taxpayer dollars, and create community re-entry strategies for women like Maria and Megan.

“They are two of the best that came through here. They are doing really good,’ says Dickinson.

“I just did quite a few years at the Montana Women’s Prison. I came up for parole and I chose to do the Culinary Arts Program because I love to cook, and also to give me a different job set skill for when I do get released into the community,” says Maria Delacruz, Passages Senior CAP Member.

"This is my third time at Passages. I’ve been to the women's prison 4 times. I’ve had a lot of opportunities through the Department of Corrections, but never really had a grip on my recovery,” says Meganjo Gibson, Passages CAP Member. “I literally chose to come here because I felt like I needed a little more consistency than, like, a shorter program to be able to build the foundation of my recovery.”

The 18-month apprenticeship program has proven successful, graduating 88 residents since 2010. It prides itself on allowing women to walk out the door with money earned while on the job and a culinary certification.

“They can go to just about any restaurant here, here in town, in Billings especially. We even do some fine dining stuff, so I’ve had a couple of them leave and go to work at a couple fine dining places,” says Dickinson.

No surprise for a group of women gaining workplace confidence at places like the State Capitol Rotunda in Helena. It’s a program giving them another chance at a picture-perfect life.