Former inmate-turned-chef returns to jail to teach others his craft

Former inmate-turned-chef returns to jail to teach others his craft

It took him a decade, but former inmate Colin Bramlett Sr. has returned to Brown Creek Correctional Facility. But this time, he’s not there as a resident.

Bramlett regularly returns to the correctional center in Polkton, North Carolina, to teach the culinary skills he learned behind bars – skills that helped him leave prison with an eye on becoming the chef and restaurateur he is today. 

After four years in prison and six years after his release, he is now giving back by helping prisoners develop their skills by teaching a cooking class at Brown Creek, including items students get to choose to make off his restaurant menus.

The entrepreneur’s visits also offer the opportunity for inmates to ask questions, and for some, it can even land them a job with his restaurants once they are released from jail. Bramlett owns three restaurants, with hopes of opening a fourth soon. 

What this visionary chef/teacher and the leadership at Brown Creek are doing is so important. It underscores the need for more diverse and practical, even cutting-edge options, to upgrade or finish their education. 

The emphasis on non-traditional roles is particularly unique – why limit inmate training to vocational studies such as automotive, welding, or other trades? Today’s economy requires marketing, social media, and advanced literacy. (Read last week’s blog about inmates launching a new radio station and how their new skills will help them find jobs after their release.)

During his time at Brown Creek, Bramlett completed a 90-day cooking diploma program through South Piedmont Community College and was able to get a work release for a local restaurant, where he became an assistant manager within a month. He worked there for a year and a half, honing his skills and perfecting his craft. 

After release, he went back to school, studying dietary management and taking several other professional development courses at South Piedmont. He now owns three restaurants, with hopes of opening a fourth soon. 

In addition to the cooking classes, current inmates in this program are also enrolled in complementary programs. This includes the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification and the South Piedmont food service technology program, including courses on baking, food service, cost control, and sanitation. 

Inmates at Brown Creek are also able to choose from a variety of other classes through SPCC, including carpentry, horticulture, veterinary assisting, and cabinet making. Classes for adult education, GED testing, human resources development, and English as a second language are also available, and inmates are able to work in a number of capacities, including in the kitchens or in the metal products plant. 

Brown Creek also offers the Domestic Violence Education Program and participates in A New Leash on Life, which partners prisoners with local animal shelters and other agencies to train dogs in preparation for their adoption over an 8- to 12-week period. The program also offers inmates the chance to earn apprenticeship certification.

This is another perfect example of how important it is to provide educational and vocational programs to those who are imprisoned. Given the opportunity and support needed, those who are incarcerated have the ability and drive to grow, change, learn, and ultimately support themselves. 

By giving them the tools and skills needed, they are more likely to do this and less likely to commit crimes upon release that send them right back behind bars. Brown Creek Correctional is focusing on helping offenders make a successful transition and become productive members of society, and Bramlett is only one example of how big a difference this type of support can make.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at,, and