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Oakland Soul Food Restaurant Serves Up Second Chances To Ex-Convicts

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- These days, Curtis Jiminez is a server at Oakland's Home of Chicken and Waffles. Before he got this gig, he spent six months in jail for selling drugs.

When he got out, he couldn't get hired.

"On paper, all they see is a felony and a high school diploma and that I'm 26 years old. They always wonder what have I been doing," Jiminez said. "If I didn't have this job, I feel like I would be forced to doing what I was doing [that got me arrested]."

Jiminez said the second chance he got from Home of Chicken and Waffles transformed his life with a stable income and new job skills that let him support his family.

READ MORE: Hillary Clinton, Oakland Mayor Highlight City's Successes At Soul Food Restaurant

Hillary Clinton, Libby Schaaf
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speak during a town hall meeting at Home of Chicken and Waffles restaurant in Oakland, May 27, 2016. (Doug Sovern/CBS)

"Communication is the biggest thing I've learned, because I'm not a talker. I never did like to talk in school and you have to talk -- you can't not talk to your customers," Jiminez said.

Home of Chicken and Waffles owner Derreck Johnson says his practice of hiring people right out of prison is a win-win for the community.

"If you can give these people opportunities, if you can give them some employment, a check, then they'll circulate that money back into the community." Johnson says.

But Johnson admits he stumbled on this model by accident.

"I needed help in the kitchen one day and one of the guys says 'I can call the house and get help' and I said 'OK, call the house and get help. We need them now!'"

Johnson thought "the house" referred to his co-worker's family or relatives. But it really meant half-way house.

That happened 12 years ago. Now, out of 44 employees, 60 to 70 percent are either on parole or probation. Some come from Oakland's crime-fighting program called Operation Ceasefire.

"You need to give people a second chance in life, 'cause, if not, what are we going to end up with? We're going to end up having just a bunch of people on the streets, a bunch of people in prison," Johnson said.

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