Family Kitchen to Inmate Rehabilitation - Kezmond Pugh’s Culinary Journey

Family Kitchen to Inmate Rehabilitation - Kezmond Pugh’s Culinary Journey

Andrea Byerly
Wednesday, November 8, 2023 12:00 AM
Community, Press Releases, All

CLEVELAND, TN - “I was raised in a family of love, and everything I remember had food around it,” shares Kezmond Pugh, culinary instructor for Cleveland State’s Workforce Development Department. “I remember being at my great grandmother’s house for Sunday dinners. When she passed on, that was passed to my mother.”

A Bradley Central High School graduate, Pugh won a scholarship to Sullivan University in Louisville at a national culinary competition. When his mother became sick, Pugh returned home. He spent a term at Cleveland State and then held positions with Head Start, Life Bridges and M&M Mars. A small business owner and community activist, Pugh is an election commissioner, NAACP board member, volunteer at City Fields, house manager and support staff with Life Bridges and owner of Kravings candy apple business.

When Cleveland State Workforce Development, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and City Fields partnered to conduct culinary training at the justice center, Pugh was asked to be the instructor.

“Kezmond Pugh is a phenomenal instructor who gives 100% of himself to better his students,” said Heather Brown, Director of Workforce Development at Cleveland State. “He consistently goes above and beyond to help his students learn both inside and outside of the classroom. His culinary skills and passion for helping others are the perfect combination for student success.”

Pugh said, “The key to me is not the cooking. I don’t do culinary at the jail for cooking; I do it for the outreach. When I teach the classes, I first go in with handshakes and hugs. ‘I need to know you. What is your story? What path is it that we need to take to get you where you need to be? I want you to be productive; I want you to find your value again. I want you to know that you have a friend.’ We work on character. To me, it is a ministry; I’ve seen the change in a lot of them.”

Pugh grew up with a father who suffered from drug addiction. He said, “In my life, he was in and out of jail. It plays in the back of my mind. Did somebody offer him what I am trying to do? I see him in my students. I just wonder if he had the opportunity for change.”

“It’s been more than cooking,” Pugh continued. “It has been a true blessing not only to them but to me. I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose. It is an emotional drain because not only am I physically teaching them to cook, but I am having to repair damaged people emotionally. Not all change, but if I get the one percent, then I’m ok.”

Five cohorts of inmates have taken this 40-hour, re-entry program at the Bradley County Justice Center since April. These 30 inmates have earned the ServSafe Food Handler industry certification and acquired job skills for future employment.

Pugh said, “I have an old school mother. We didn’t have cereal or junk food. Every meal was structured at home. My mother is an amazing cook. Not only did I get the culinary training, I got home cooking so I combined the two. That is why I have been successful. I do not know if the students will cook for life, but I do know that one or two have changed to be better people. That is all it is for me.”

For more information about culinary and workforce training, contact Cleveland State Director of Workforce Development, Heather Brown, hbrown@clevelandstatecc.edu or (423) 614-8793. 

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