Whisk: The Eatery Where Ex-Offenders Are Starting Over

At Boston’s Whisk, chef Jeremy Kean is helping ex-offenders—like him—learn the business of running a restaurant.

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Thousands of ex-offenders cycle in and out of the criminal-justice system because of a lack of education, job training and basic necessities, including food and shelter. Federal, state and local expenditures on mechanisms of punishment dwarf resources dedicated to prisoner re-entry in the United States.

That’s where Kean and Taylor come in.

Their stories offer a human face to the cold statistics of not just mass incarceration but the very idea of second chances and rehabilitation among ex-offenders. Both men readily admit to having made costly mistakes in their youth, but they are committed to turning their lives around, and they’ve done so in truly remarkable ways.

And their stories remind me during this holiday season that the greatest gift that each of us can give our fellow human beings is forgiveness and compassion. Imagine if we lived in a nation where drug use was treated as a health issue (like alcoholism) and we deployed billions of dollars to rehabilitation and treatment rather than punishment and prisons. Imagine a more just society, where we provided employment at a living wage for ex-offenders, including opportunities for affordable housing, job training, education, child care and health care.

This would be tantamount to the revolution of values that Martin Luther King Jr. pursued throughout his life and what, during this holiday season, we should all be striving for. For now, though, let’s applaud the small acts of heroism by businesses like Whisk and individuals like Jeremy Kean and Big Bop Taylor. They embody that spirit through self-determination and acts of sheer will.

Peniel E. Joseph, a contributing editor at The Root, is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is also the Caperton fellow for the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. His biography of Stokely Carmichael will be published next year by Basic Books. Follow him on Twitter.

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