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At Rikers Island Prison detainees learn about coffee using Nuova Simonelli machines

Omar Jhury and Joshua Molina, right, at the Rikers Island using a Nuova Simonelli Musica espresso machine. (Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

MILAN – Coffee as a means of social reintegration: Amy Chozick writes on The New York Times about a barista training project at the Rikers Island Prison Complex in New York. At the Rikers Island, prison detainees learn about coffee, latte art and acquire skills that will be useful in view of their future reinsertion in society. Here is an  excerpt of the story of two detainees – Omar Jhury and Joshua Molina – published on the New York Times website.

By Amy Chozick

Can teaching prison inmates to make lattes give them a chance at a better future?
Officer Green wanted her vanilla latte piping hot. “With vanilla on top, not a lot, just a drizzle, and very hot, don’t make it warm,” she shouted to Eddie Rodriguez, who was taking orders.

He nodded and wrote Green on the side of a cup. “Don’t worry, I got ya. Extra hot for Officer Green.” Then he slid the cup down the bar where Mr. Rodriguez and the other inmates in the barista training program at the Rikers Island prison complex were adding ice, steaming milk and grinding beans to load into a $3,000 Nuova Simonelli Musica espresso machine coupled with a Mdx grinder.

It was rush hour at the coffee shop that pops up twice daily inside the staff lounge at one of the nation’s most notorious jails. The uniformed guards formed a sea of blue in the dreary institutional lunchroom, with Maury Povich’s talk show playing on an overhead TV and a smell of waffle fries and bleach in the air.

They put in their specialty drink orders: a chai latte for a deputy warden (“not too sweet!”). Four shots of espresso for a guard headed into a long shift (“I need that extra kick”). Five orders in a row of the house specialty, the “Captain T”: an iced caramel latte with whipped cream on top named after a favorite officer.

“Omar, you’re an artist, kid!” one guard said as Omar Jhury, 29, swirled the caramel syrup on top and peeled back a straw in a delicate petal shape.

“Whole lotta drizzles today,” said Randolph Denis, 44, squeezing a zigzag of vanilla syrup atop an iced latte. During my visit, in late September, pumpkin spice, of course, was about to be in season.