Marcellus Benbow, 35, has spent most of his adult life cycling in and out of New York State prisons, including Attica and Auburn, on drug-related charges. Six foot five, the tattoos and on both arm include his five daughters, his wife, his neighborhood and his old gang, the Bloods. Released for the last time in 2011, he was struggling. “At the time, I was doing odd jobs to keep myself strong, and not fall into the same routine I had fallen into previously,” he says. He was determined to find a job and a place to live, and to gain custody of his two oldest daughters, whose mother had abandoned them while he was locked up. But what employer was going to take a chance on him?
“I was like, I just come from prison, I didn’t even know what was going on,” he says He had earned his GED high-school equivalency degree and a food-handler certificate in prison, so he answered an ad on Craigslist for a job at Apple-Metro, the New York franchisee of Applebee’s. He hit it off with the general manager. The job, as a broiler cook, was the first stable one he’d ever had. “Applebee’s saved my life,” he says. Today, he’s an assistant kitchen manager at Applebee’s Fordham Road location in the Bronx, and on track for a promotion to the next level, to kitchen manager, a role that’s akin to running a mini-factory. Pulling his released inmate ID out of his wallet, he proclaims: “There is nothing that can make me want to go back to being that person.”