At the Orange Correctional Center, a minimum-security state prison in Hillsborough, inmates enrolled in Nancy Gould's Food Services Technology course thumb through a library of colorful cookbooks looking for a recipe to learn.
For the past 16 years, Gould has taught the vocational class, known throughout the state prison system as Cook School, in partnership with Piedmont Community College. There is a long list of inmates waiting to take Gould's course, which is worth 16 college credits.
"She gives people a chance to make choices, to make decisions and to take on a project and deal with it," says volunteer and local author Nancie McDermott. "And when they get stuck halfway through, she says, 'What are you going to do about it?'"
Most of the men at OCC are within five years of their release dates or parole eligibility. Gould's class, along with computer training, literacy tutoring and work release programs, are primarily run by volunteers. The focus is on preparing inmates for re-entry into the workforce and a world of tough choices.
Prison and jail education programs reduce long-term recidivism by 29 percent, according to a recent study by the Correctional Education Association.
The North Carolina Senate recently passed a budget that would close several minimum-security prisons, including Orange Correctional Center. However, under the House budget, OCC would stay open.
"It's something that you can take with you on the other side of the gate," says inmate Wayne Crocker Jr. as he folds linen napkins in preparation for a dinner to honor all of the volunteers at OCC (see photo). "If you don't do nothing but just feed your family a nice prepared meal."