Chapman Passionate About Food, Sharing Skills with Offenders and Others at CP

man standing between two large food kettles with open lids
Monday, May 6, 2019 - 7:33am

Everyone loves to eat. Now, as far as food preparation goes, that’s another story.

Central Prison Food Service Manager Conell Chapman loves food. He loves to eat, and he loves the process of preparation. Chapman also loves imparting that wisdom to offenders and prison staff, not just at Central Prison in Raleigh but to other prisons, county jails and federal facilities in North Carolina, across the country and Canada.

“We’re lucky to have Mr. Chapman,” said CP Warden Edward Thomas. “He is passionate about food service and is a big team member of management. Food service affects the entire operation and is a bigger part of a prison operation than people think. If the food’s right and the offenders are happy with the food, things go a lot smoother. It takes people in that area who care about what they’re doing for it to work correctly."

Chapman, who started his career in 2001 as a correctional officer at Hyde Correctional Institution, was given his opportunity to work in food services in 2003 after he moved a year earlier to Craven Correctional Institution. He was promoted to food service manager at Maury Correctional Institution when it opened in 2005 and eventually was promoted to food service manager at Central Prison in 2013. 

 “I worked in different (food) places in college and was interested in it,” Chapman said. “I was given a chance at Craven and it was a blessing.”

Working with the dietitians from Food and Nutrition Management, Chapman and other food service managers in the state’s prisons have a difficult task of training offenders and correctional officers in the kitchen. Food prep for the masses is one thing, but then making sure specialized diets are adhered to makes it more difficult.

“Conell is my go-to guy on many aspects,” said Kelli Harris, the director of Prisons Food and Nutrition Management. “He has extensive correctional experience at all levels, which is always a benefit. He worked his way up through the system. He is a positive person for the department. He wants other facilities to succeed and move forward. That’s a very positive thing for North Carolina.”

Chapman’s passion for his work has provided an influence seen in professional organizations. He not only is a member of The Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates (an international organization dedicated to the professional growth of correctional food service employees), but is president of the North Carolina chapter. Once seen as one of the larger chapters in the organization in the early 2000s, the state chapter’s membership fell off sharply a few years ago to just a handful of North Carolinians participating. 

Chapman has been enthusiastic in his support of ACFSA and there are now 21 members from other prisons, jails and food service vendors in the state chapter. Other officers in the state chapter include Teresa Leary of Bertie CI (vice-president), Constance Clark of Lanesboro CI (secretary), Clarence Godley of Maury CI (treasurer) and Wayne Fish of Craggy Correctional Center (Region II Director). 

“The Association is a very important part of what we do,” Harris said.  “Across the United States, it’s an important network for food service officers as well as dietitians. We work with other states to get ideas. Prisons food service is a very unique setting. People who’d come in off the street can’t relate to prisons.”

Chapman said, “the organization educates personnel on food services. It’s a great way to network and bring new ideas to the industry. It’s very important to me. I’ve gone to conferences in the last four years and brought back ideas that other states are doing. In North Carolina, we rarely see other food service managers. We’re working to set up regional meetings across the state as a way for us to get together and find out what’s going on in each other’s facility. It’s a great way to bring ideas to the table.”

Chapman is part of the organizing committee for the yearly international meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. While that keeps him busy, he still focuses on not only working with his staff at Central Prison but running the facility’s test kitchen. Staff flock to the cafeteria to try different delicacies made by offenders who may find a job in the industry once they leave CP.

 “I’m never satisfied. I get calls all the time from directors down to managers on what they can do better for food service operations,” said Chapman. “To me, it’s about giving guys skills that they can take when they get out. The goal is to get guys out of here and get them in positions so they don’t come back to prison.”

Warden Thomas said, “He’s short-staffed like everyone else, but even when he’s fully staffed, most of the work is done by offenders. He not only has to supervise and manage staff, he’s also managing and supervising difficult individuals who sometimes don’t want to work. He’s got to make them motivated and he’s very good at that. He knows how to communicate and we’re very lucky to have him. He makes us proud.”

Jerry Higgins, Communications Officer