Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Can Chocolate Reform?

Not long ago I found out about a program in Italy where chocolate is used in a prison system among certain inmates and the result is a chocolate company that might be teaching men skills that could improve their lives once they have done their time.

How may years have you been in the chocolate industry, Mike?

The DL project started in 2010. Beviamo is a wholesaler of the best Italian products which includes chocolate and confectionary. We have been doing this since 2011.

Do you yourself craft chocolates or are you presenting the artisans who work with it?

We work with the producers to get the products into the right stores, food halls etc in the UK and are a fairly new business but we feel we have the best brands from Italy.

Mike, would you tell us a bit about this "Sweet Freedom" or Dolci Liberta project your company has been apart of in Italy?

We met DL at a chocolate show in London when we were going to see Bonajuto (our main chocolate brand). They wanted to work with us so Cristiano my business partner went to visit them in Milan, in the prison. There were journalists from BBC and UK newspapers, representing the UK. There will be some articles soon that I will send to you.

Who came up with the idea to work with prisoners?

Dolce Liberta' is a high profile project which meets all the criteria of good manufacturing process whilst also being a high quality social project. Dolci Liberta’ is a project set up by Sport & Spettacolo Holding Spa. The company brings together people from the world of sport and entertainment, entrepreneurs and professionals, who hold a common objective to make high profile investments and to add value to society. Sport & Spettacolo Holding Spa’s core values are based on respecting, as well as investing in, people and their surroundings.

Was there any resistance to this project from either the prison officials or the city itself?

It was actually a relief for the officials and guards seeing that the number of the guards used to look after these 25-30 prisoners is definitely lower than the normal, we are talking about 4-5 guards at the maximum. It is beneficial for Busto Arsizio too, because they can gain recognition in national newspapers and tv not just in Italy but around the  world.

What were the criteria the prisoners had to meet in order to join the project?

They must have at least 2-3 years of time to spend in jail to have the time to follow the formation course and become trained properly by professional chefs. The most important selection is obviously about the well behaviour kept throughout the time spent in prison before been selected and trained.

How many years has the project been going on now?

Started at the end of 2010.

Have any of the prisoners finished their sentences and put the skills and experience they've learned during the project toward careers in chocolate or the food industry?

A reasonable percentage of them after the sentence started a new life and some of them have been employed by cooperatives specialised in the reintegration of unlucky people. The most important aspect is that, seeing that the majority of the prisoners never worked before going into jail, after the period spent following this project and after been released, have started considering the life under another point of view. Even the recidivism has been statistically cut down in prisoners who followed this project.

Do you think this project could be repeated in other prison systems in other countries?

It requires time, patience, willpower and support by the governments and local institutions, but in theory yes.

Where there any unforeseen challenges this project have?

The only little issue they have is the fact that during the hot summer months, from june until august, the production is reduced. The other big challenge was to let people understand the project and getting rid of the understandable prejudices of thinking about who was the real producers of these fantastic delicacies.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of this project for your company?

Beviamo are delighted to be working closely with DL and we fully support this project and believe it is valuable to give things back to society and give people a 2nd chance in life, so yes we are very happy.

Is there a website where people could order the chocolates your project creates?

Our website has some of the products on that can be ordered directly. www.beviamo.co.uk We want to work with chocolate distributors in the US if you can assist us with that.

There you have it, Sisters and Brothers.  While the program is too new to really judge how well it might be working outside of the structured life inside a prison, we'll soon be able to review the products they make and share that with you all.

To see images you can check out this article "Busto Arsizio" or this one "Dolci Liberta: An Inside Story" since both authors actually had a chance to check out the program first hand.

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