El Dorado County Jail inmates take up spatulas for fair in Placerville

For many, receiving positive attention is a new experience
By: Penne Usher, Telegraph Correspondent
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PLACERVILLE, CA - Winning a blue ribbon at the county fair is a big deal for anyone and it means a lot more if the winners happen to be behind bars. Several El Dorado County inmates took top honors at this year?s El Dorado County Fair in the baking competition. The idea came about in 2007 to have inmates learn to cook to commercial standards, said Capt. Randy Peschon of the El Dorado County Sheriff?s Office. ?We ran our demographics and looked at the issues we are facing with a huge percentage of the population cycling back through the system,? he said. ?To prevent (recidivism), we looked at the culinary arts program.? Across the street from the Sheriffs? Office South Lake Tahoe Jail is the Lake Tahoe Community College. The College has a culinary arts program and a collaborative effort was forged with inmates learning to cook with quality. Since its inception in 2007, the inmates have achieved in excess of 50 first-, second- and third-place baking ribbons at the fair. Jose Avina, 27, was one of this year?s blue-ribbon winners for bar cookies and he took third for his white chocolate lime cookies. ?I was in shock that I won,? Avina said in a phone interview from the South Tahoe jail facility. ?I didn?t know I could make something good. It will give me more motivation.? Avina is serving time for narcotics charges. He expects to be released in August. He said cooking was foreign to him. ?I didn?t know how to cook at all. It?s all new to me,? he said. ?I?m starting to like it. When I get out, I will start to do this more.? Marcus Tillman, 29, took first-place for his yeast rolls, second for his cinnamon rolls and third for peanut butter cookies. ?It means a lot,? he said in a phone interview last week. ?The fact that I haven?t accomplished anything in my life and am cooking ? its? a wonderful thing? Tillman, who is being held on narcotics charges, expects to be released later this year and plans to pursue baking as a career, he said. Rodney Glover, 38, is serving time for commercial burglary. He scored second for his chocolate chip cookies and third for his cupcakes. ?The cupcakes are chocolate with a meringue filling,? he said in a phone interview. ?Winning makes a person feel good. For me, it makes a positive out of the situation that I?m in.? Peschon said the department is behind the idea and also runs the baked goods to the fair and places the entries for the inmates. ?The program has been very successful,? he said. ?For some (inmates), it?s the first time they?ve been recognized in a positive way.? This year the inmates in the culinary arts program earned a total of 18 ribbons. In addition, the inmates earned several fourth place awards and numerous honorable mentions.