Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Redemption Through Food
This is Nathanial (Nate) Awan. When I first met Nate he was constantly smiling, happy, upbeat and soft-spoken. He gets up very early each morning on these cold days to report to work at a Bakery/Cafe in Boston by 7:30 AM and works until 4:30 PM five days a week, sometimes six, and he loves it. No complaints at all here. What I was very surprised to learn was that Nate is an ex-convict.
Nate grew up in Dorchester, a troubled child, kicked out of four different grammar schools for his bad behavior. When I ask about his family life he simply says: "DSS was involved." He dropped out of High School and took to the streets. He was sent to DYS for three years. After that, he became involved in neighborhood violence and, before long, found himself in front of a judge who sentenced him to three years in State Prison. Once there, he started working in the kitchen, joining the culinary group. "It was definitely a good experience," he says. I asked what he liked about it and he said the magic words I have heard so often: "Food brings people together." I am always amazed at how food gives young people a sense of pride and accomplishment. It shows them, maybe for the first time, that they can be really good at something. Something that other people really like and admire.
Today, Nate speaks eloquently to High School students about his experience and how he did not know what would happen when he left prison. Who would want him? Who would hire anyone like him? He knew he had used up two of his three strikes and was determined to do better. Enter Haley House, a godsend of an organization in Boston that offers a chance to people like Nate to change their lives through food. I ask him if I can share his story and he enthusiastically agrees.
I watch as the students lean in to really hear his words. He advises them to listen to their parents and older mentors. He speaks openly and honestly in words that they can relate to. "You may think they are old and don't know what they are talking about at all but they do," he says. "And they really do care about you." When I speak with Nate later he says today that his tag is simply: "Own it." The advice he gives to young people is: "No excuses." He says what is different now is that he is fully aware that he is responsible for his own actions. He knows that days filled with idle time, without purpose or aim, inevitably lead kids to trouble and he quietly shares that important message with all of these kids. When I speak with Carol Kong, Operations Director at Haley House, she tells me that it is filled with people who have stories similar to Nate's and I am very proud to have brought to this blog at least one of them. Thank you, Nate, and thank you Carol Kong.
HALEY HOUSE BAKERY CAFÉ
12 Dade Street
Dudley Square, Roxbury