Duane is the youngest of six kids and grew up in a single parent household. He was a “troublesome child” and had run-ins with the law at a young age, including a juvenile arrest before he turned 13.
From petty crimes like vandalism and trespassing, Duane moved on to car theft and burglary. “They say the small things can lead to bigger problems, and looking back, I can say that for me it really did.”
Duane worked through temp services in construction, day labor, warehouses, and manufacturing, and for longer periods as a dishwasher or busboy at restaurants and in the fast food industry. He met his partner in 2006 and started a family, welcoming a daughter in 2008 and a son in 2010.
Just prior to the birth of their son, Duane enrolled in Cincinnati State’s culinary program. His brother had graduated from the program and shared his love of cooking with Duane. Unfortunately, his inconsistent employment combined with the loss of his partner’s income due to her pregnancy led to the family facing eviction. Desperate for cash to pay the rent, he got involved with stealing copper from vacant buildings and selling it for scrap.
Duane was arrested and convicted of breaking and entering. He served five years, counting every day of his sentence and resolved to build a stable, crime-free life for his family on his release.
While completing his post-incarceration monitoring, Duane heard about Cincinnati COOKS! from friends. He wanted to complete his culinary training so he applied and enrolled. While attending classes, he continued to work for a temp service and provide for his family.
Duane appreciates the acceptance he received from COOKS! staff and his classmates, but he is worried about how his record will impact his ability to get employment.
“All I need is one person to let me into the kitchen and show them what I can do. I will wash dishes for that chance.”
His experience at COOKS! has taught him how to work with different types of people. Duane loves the precision of prep work and his skills in that area are exceptional. But he admits that he still has room to grow on his presentation skills.
Duane’s mother wasn’t able to attend his graduation due to an illness requiring a hospital stay, but she was there in spirit and he visited her to show off his chef hat and coat. “She told me she was proud of me. I haven’t heard her say that since I graduated from junior high.”
He hopes to enroll in Second Course and continue to pursue a career that will provide stability and a better life for him and his family.