NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Michael Barrett’s life looks a lot different than it used to. Instead of waking up in jail every morning, he wakes up and goes to a job he loves.

“At a young high school age, that’s when I first began to experience homelessness,” he said.

You wouldn’t know it just by looking at Barrett though. He’s currently a production chef at Audrey in Nashville, the signature of famous chef Sean Brock.

But the journey getting there wasn’t necessarily an easy one. It was full of lows – lots of lows.

“I started getting incarcerated for little things and big things,” Barrett said. “No matter what it was, it was a cycle of incarceration, out, incarceration, out, and it was just a repeat.”

After his final stint in prison, the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services found him and put him in the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) program. The nine-year-old service aims to help people find career paths that will suit them after incarceration or mental health issues.

Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) gave it high praise on Tuesday. “I’m just proud of the work you all do,” Lee said to a small crowd of program workers at the Capitol. “There are moments where you just sit back and go, ‘We do really, really good work.’”

The IPS found Barrett when he was at a crossroads in his life.

“I’ll just give you the truth. I was in a bad place,” he said. “You ever get that feeling of, you know, ‘I don’t want to die, but it’s just too hard to live. I’m not dumb enough to kill myself, but I’m not smart enough to do the things I need to do to progress.’ I was there.”

But now, the progression is evident.

“Michael is a blessing to be around,” Audrey Restaurant Director of Ops. Sam Jett said. “I think that he embodies, he’s the embodiment of gratitude.” 

Audrey isn’t the only place Barrett finds himself nowadays. He’s a full-time student at Nashville State Community College, working on his AA in Applied Science for Culinary Arts.

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But when he is at Audrey, it isn’t really as much of a job as it is a lifestyle.

“No, I don’t have a job,” Barrett said. “This is a career.”