In Baumettes, prisoners open a restaurant: “It was as if I was not in prison

Amir* arranges the clothes of the first guests neatly in the closet near the kitchen. The beautifully decorated room still smells of fresh paint. Behind the hard-working young waiter, the chefs are busy with the final preparations before the official opening of Les Beaux Mets restaurant.

“We have to assemble all the equipment in two minutes, right? And the job plan, you have to leave everything clean after you’re done. Is this good for you? The head of this new venture, Sandrine Sollier, gives her final instructions to her team. It doesn’t seem to make any difference Another classic bistronomic restaurant is Les Beaux Mets. Except for one small detail. In a corner of the room, next to the tables and cutlery, Natalie, dressed in uniform, watches the grain. He explains: “My role is to position myself on set. In particular, it is necessary to count the knives several times during the service, to prevent the convicts from walking with them in the cell. Therefore, the blades are sealed. »

More freedom

Because Nathalie is the foreman supervisor at Baumettes and the staff of this restaurant are all held in the famous Marseille prison. After a five-year gestation, Les Beaux Mets opens this Tuesday, becoming the first inmate-run restaurant open to the public at the same time. Thirteen Baumettes inmates volunteered to be part of the adventure as Amir.

The 22-year-old says: “Mostly I’m interested in cooking. After all, I am a server, but this allows me to discover something. Above all, it helps me think less about my problems. It allows me more freedom to relate to others, to see other faces, to have an environment other than my own cell. It was like I wasn’t in prison. I am out from 8 in the morning to 4 in the evening. Others have the right to walk for only two hours a day. The recently convicted Amir is due to be released from prison in 2024.

“We are boxed like an umbrella”

“I, I wanted to do it first to work, his colleague server Driss bol *. Time there is usefully spent. It is rewarding. We do not feel that we are in a cell where we do nothing. The young man points to the object next to him. “We are in a box like an umbrella. »

“I have to go out in March 2024,” explains apprentice chef Farid. By integrating the restaurant, it might allow me to check out faster. I’m not going to hide it from you, there is a strategic side to it. But not only. At the age of 30, we usually build something. I’m taking myself out of context here. And time passes much faster than in a cell. And I’m learning a beautiful art. But I will not do this job outside. I have other projects. I have always been in import-export. »

This initiative, put forward by both the prison authorities and the Festin association, also aims to promote professions in the sector operating under stress and thus better prepare for the reintegration of these prisoners. “I earn a little money and it helps me eat,” explains Amir. And then I will be able to write this on my resume as an experience. I’ve never done a server before. The first few days, I messed everything up. But if there is work, why not do it outside. On Thursdays and Fridays, they also help us write resumes. »

Encourage employment

“Everyone makes mistakes,” says chef Sandrine Sollier. They made bigger mistakes than us. But we are more than mistakes. We feel that they are very diligent and very attentive. I am pleasantly surprised by the presented work. “We’re here to showcase them,” says Mark Balthazard, the establishment’s maitre d’. I think someone needs to help them go in the right direction. When we go out, we will try to find them a job outside. »

And to start with a smile: “And then when they come with the supervisors, they’re always on time. Since alcohol is prohibited in the prison, they are fresh and ready to go. They didn’t party last night! It remains for these apprentice chefs and waiters to succeed in their baptism of fire. After a week of running around with officials and journalists, the restaurant will open to the public on Tuesday. “I’m a little scared,” Amir breathes. As required by the regulation, four days before his visit, a hundred people have already ordered online. Especially when it’s time to check the lockers of guests who have to leave their cash and cell phones in the box outside the restaurant.

*Names of all detainees have been changed.

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