From Prisoner to Barista, This Jail Offers Inmates a Chance to Find a Career in Coffee

From Prisoner to Barista, This Jail Offers Inmates a Chance to Find a Career in Coffee
Jamie Mason, who teaches inmates how to be baristas at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove, stands with a La Marzocco espresso machine at Redemption Coffee, the jail's internal cafe and training center, on Wednesday. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee/TNS)
Tribune News Service

By Benjy Egel From The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento—Jamie Mason was more than 20 years into her career in specialty coffee when she got a call from an alarming source: the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

The Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center was starting a coffee education and barista training program, a lieutenant told Mason, and they wanted her to lead it. She demurred at first, content to write curriculum and design the cafe’s layout, before taking the reins in November 2020.

Thus began Redemption Coffee, the Elk Grove jail’s internal cafe and training center for soon-to-be-released female inmates. Twenty-one women graduated since Mason took over, and alumnae have landed jobs as baristas and roasters at Camellia Coffee Roasters and Bewley’s, the parent company of Java City.

Redemption Coffee students first learn bean anatomy, tasting notes and coffee origins. They then dive into foundational barista knowledge such as milk science and pouring espresso shots, before learning latte art and how to pick out tasting notes.

The final sessions focus on cafe operations such as taking inventory and writing schedules. Working as a barista is many people’s foot-in-the-door to the coffee industry, but Redemption Coffee shows people how to do jobs away from the counter, many of which Mason said offer more of a living wage.

Mason teaches three to 12 women at a time, all of whom must have been in jail for at least three months, can’t be violent offenders and must sign up for other reentry services as well.

“Part of my job is to really think about not just measured outcomes ... but changing the cultural attitudes of ex-offenders,” Mason said. “They’ve done their time. I want these women to have a fair chance and opportunity to thrive in their lives. These women constantly surprise me with their drive to want to change.”

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