BILLERICA (CBS) – When you’re in their kitchen it looks like it could be the “back of the house” at any fine restaurant. But this kitchen is actually a part of “The Big House.”

These are not professional cooks, at least not yet. They are convicted criminals serving time at the Middlesex House Of Correction in Billerica.

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The inmates-turned-chefs are graduates of a 12-week culinary arts program. They’re given a certificate of participation from Shawsheen Regional Technical High School and credits toward a degree at Middlesex Community College.

In addition, they earn a ServSafe sanitation certificate.

Inmates learn to cook through a House of Correction culinary program. (WBZ-TV)

Inmates learn to cook through a House of Correction culinary program. (WBZ-TV)

“Every person sent to the House of Correction will be back on the street,” Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian told WBZ-TV.

“It’s my job to turn them out better than when they came in. These types of programs reduce recidivism and reduce the chances of them committing another crime.”

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A prison culinary course helps prepare inmates to get jobs upon their release. (WBZ-TV)

A prison culinary course helps prepare inmates to get jobs upon their release. (WBZ-TV)

One of the inmates who completed the course, a man who is serving a 3-year sentence for assault and battery, said “It’s almost like a chance for freedom, learning a skill that can prepare you for anything when you get out of here.”

The inmates don’t get to eat the meals they prepare. Instead the meals are for staff or visiting guests.

Celebrity chef Lydia Shire and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian address inmates in the culinary course. (WBZ-TV)

Celebrity chef Lydia Shire and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian address inmates in the culinary course. (WBZ-TV)

At the program’s recent graduation ceremony, the commencement speaker was Boston celebrity chef Lydia Shire, who ironically runs a restaurant located in the old Charles Street Jail.

Shire said she would have no problem hiring an ex-con.

“Everyone makes mistakes in life,” said Shire. “To me the most important thing is a go get ‘em attitude.”

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Koutoujian concluded the ceremony by telling to the inmates “I hope to see you again. But my hope is that I don’t have to see you in here. My hope is that I get to see you out in the community.”