One year ago, Candido Ortiz was released from prison after spending nearly 27 years behind bars for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm. His sentence, originally 49 years, was cut short by clemency granted by President Barack Obama in the final days of his presidency. Ortiz, one of 1,715 nonviolent offenders granted clemency by former President Obama, just celebrated his first week as the owner and head chef of El Sabor del Cafe in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Ortiz spent much of his time in jail serving as a prison chef. "I learned how to cook because I like to eat," Ortiz says. "I've been working with food seven days a week, 365 days a year, and I've been doing that for the past 27 years."
Under the Department of Justice Clemency Initiative, nonviolent offenders who served at least 10 years could petition to get their sentences commuted to match current sentencing laws. "It was the most beautiful thing that happened to me in my life," Ortiz says. "If I was not getting out last Christmas, my release date was going to be 2035. At the age of 80 years."
Since his release, Ortiz has been working with the New Jersey Re-Entry Program, a group headed by former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey that aims to support former inmate's assimilation process. "Ortiz has spent a lot of time in the federal penitentiary, in the federal system serving as a chef," McGreevey says. "Within a weeks time, we had him working as a short order cook at a local cafe. And then helped to raise the necessary dollars for him to make a down payment for restaurant."
There are currently more than two million people in American prisons or jails -- 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population.
Today was a memorable day for Candido! We held the opening of his restaurant, El Sabor Del Café. We were honored to receive a congratulatory letter from @barackobama, who granted Candido clemency from an exceptionally harsh 49.5-year sentence. Congratulations, Candido! #reentry pic.twitter.com/NkjNbPj71W— NJ Reentry Corp (@NJ_Reentry) December 19, 2017