All Square: Justice Served in a Sandwich
Emily Hunt Turner saw opportunity for criminal justice reform in her restaurant, All Square. Leaving prison, people often face challenges and stigma as they begin their new lives. At the Craft grilled cheese restaurant, those with criminal records are employed and taken through a professional development program anchored in law and entrepreneurship in order to pave way towards a better future.
- I'm passionate about what I do,
because for the longest time,
I worked in the legal arena for the Federal Government
and felt so completely disempowered
and quite honestly, sad at the sort of grave setbacks
of the Criminal Justice System.
And I really didn't feel as a lawyer
that I was a part of the solution.
The systemic issues that I was seeing
were so big and on such a macro level
that it just felt like, I couldn't imagine
how to actually contribute to reversing it.
It was incredibly empowering to just start my own thing.
So instead of asking people to do what we believe
is right, we're just doing it and we're becoming that model.
All Square is a civil rights social enterprise.
We are centered on a craft grilled cheese restaurant
and a companion professional institute.
We invest in those who have criminal records,
and every six months we have a cohort
of fellows who travel through our curriculum
and they work at the restaurant
as a way to put, you know, real money in their pockets.
But they're also traveling through a 12-month curriculum
anchored in law and entrepreneurship.
- All Square to me is an opportunity for change.
You know, it's a real blessing.
They opened my eyes to really make me believe
that I can actually do that,
I can actually pursue my dreams.
You know, I'm not just a criminal, I'm not just a felon.
I hope to prove a lot of people wrong,
a lot of judges, a lot of POs
that think that I'm just gonna end up back in the system.
And I wanna prove them wrong.
I'm not gonna do that.
I'm gonna keep moving forward.
- The support system is huge here.
I think they really care about you,
and then they care about where you're gonna go
after this program ends.
So I think that's really important
that they care about you a lot,
because some people come in and they don't have
that support system.
So when they guide us, they really mean it.
But I took it as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
It will never happen again if I let it pass me on,
so it was my future.
- The institute piece really came
from my formerly incarcerated mentors,
who really stressed in the beginning
that this thing just can't be a job.
It has to be so much more than that.
The challenges that people face
when they leave prison extend from employment
and housing and securing a line of credit,
securing health care, to even just existing
and engaging in democracy.
There's stigma everywhere you look.
Everything you apply for, your record comes up.
I mean, I just can't imagine having my mistakes rubbed
in my face every day the rest of my life.
I just can't.
I can't imagine how discouraging that must be.
I really wanted to make sure that the name
said something about what we're doing.
We wanna use the brand to really challenge the narrative
that comes with having a record
and to send a message that, you know,
once you have paid your debts, you're all square.
And we should all, as a society, support you
in moving forward.
When folks walk out of our program
and graduate from All Square, it's to have a viable pathway
into the next big thing, whatever that is for them, right?
We're huge proponents of letting them self-identify
what it is they want, what field they wanna be in.
To not only sort of exist
and subsist after they are released,
but to excel into, you know, wealth and prosperity
and overall, sort of happiness.
It's such a fallacy that you can't do good and do well.
Very much believe that All Square is a viable business model
and a profitable one, and we wanna instill
that same sort of drive for doing well financially
in all of our fellows.
As a social enterprise, we're transacting
with our beneficiaries.
When it comes to reporting and telling the world,
telling funders, telling investors,
telling foundations what you're doing
and why it matters, there's a way,
because you're transacting with your beneficiaries,
there's a way to actually measure that
and show, in dollar signs, the social impact
that you're having as an organization.
So for me, social enterprise is, in this sort of new,
viable model, and always include revenue generation,
is the way of the future.
I really hope that the community and the public at large
can find a sense of comradery and collective purpose
in a space like All Square, to get beyond
what the narratives that we all have been fed
and to just meet people and break bread a little bit.
Having that grilled cheese angle
has been a really beautiful way to temper
some of the sort of intensity that can come
with a mission like this.
The grilled cheese, in my mind,
has really become this fun ingredient
that just cuts through all of the sort of potential discord
and there's just warmth, you know?
There's just warmth, there's excitement.
It's just been kind of magical.