PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Thomas Hunold sometimes doesn’t recognize the man he was back when his rap sheet was growing.
“I was in and out of trouble,” he says, looking back at a 12-year span of time that brought him into his 30s. “I had no real positive male roll models. So, I did what others in my crowd did.”
To his recollection, he served eight short stints in the ACI. The last time the heavy metal doors closed behind him was about five years ago, but then he had to find his way again on the outside. He didn’t.
“I was in the cold for a little bit,” he says. “Lived in Roger Williams Park. Then two years in shelters.”
At Crossroads, he realized he’d had enough.
“There’s got to be something better,” he remembers saying to himself. “There has to be.”
There was, and it started with a culinary program by the Rhode Island Food Bank. Then, after realizing he had some talent in the kitchen, a handful of chefs gave Hunold opportunities he’ll never forget.
Now, while he spices a sizzling skillet of scallops as the executive chef of a Thayer Street restaurant, Hunold admits even five years removed from prison, he never imagined he’d get out of the cycle that devoured his 20s. He hopes to return the favor as one of the instructors and mentors in a new culinary program that will be run through Billy Taylor House.
The program, funded with a grant from Bank of America, will reach out to troubled teenagers before they head down the same crooked path that once led Hunold to the ACI. He knows not every kid will become a chef, but he hopes they’ll learn enough life skills to understand how to be productive.
“It’s hard with no direction, no strong male role models,” he says. “You’re hopeless. Once you’re in that cycle, either going home to no heat, no hot water, no couch to sleep on, no food to eat. We can show them a better way, show them how make money legitimately.”
And show them how to avoid losing a decade or more to bad behavior.