Hiring requirement at this bakery: A criminal record

After 15 years in prison, Eric Satterfield had two options for work experience on his résumé: jobs before prison or jobs in prison.

“When you come out of prison, you think everybody is thinking about why I went to prison. And that’s not really true, “says Mr. Satterfield. His prison time held no stigma for the nonprofit Laughing Bear Bakery, which only hires people with criminal records to help them get a solid footing in the workforce. A year at the bakery helped him transition into a full-time job at a manufacturing center.

Why We Wrote This

With patience, forgiveness, and cookies, a retired prison chaplain empowers people with criminal records “to imagine a new self.”

Being able “to imagine a new self” is key to successful reentry, explains Naomi Sugie, an associate professor of criminology, law, and society at the University of California, Irvine. And it requires spaces like the bakery where returning citizens “are not always having to explain themselves in terms of their past mistakes,” she says.

Founder Kalen McAllister hatched the Laughing Bear Bakery idea during a career as a prison chaplain when she realized counseling inside prison walls was only a partial solution. Change was needed outside, too. When she retired, she explains, “On my way out the door, I said, ‘I’m going to do something to solve this.'”

St. Louis

Five years into working at Farmington Correctional Center, chaplain Kalen McAllister – “Chap” for short – began to notice a pattern. A few weeks before they were released, men would walk through the chapel to her white-walled office, take a seat in a cushioned chair, and confide in her.

The familiar refrain? “I don’t even want to get out because I won’t be able to get a job.”

Ms. McAllister would offer support but soon realized counseling from inside the prison walls was only a partial solution. Change was needed outside, too. When she retired, she saw her opening: “On my way out the door, I said, ‘I’m going to do something to solve this.'”

Why We Wrote This

With patience, forgiveness, and cookies, a retired prison chaplain empowers people with criminal records “to imagine a new self.”

In 2015, Ms. Laughing Bear Bakery in St. McAllister Louis, a nonprofit business where a criminal record is required to land the job.

For many returning citizens, the stigma of a criminal record means the consequences of a crime are paid long after time served. With the click of a mouse, employers can run a background check, and it’s perfectly legal to factor a criminal record into a hiring decision. A criminal record can last a lifetime, making job reentry – and beyond – an uphill journey. At Laughing Bear Bakery, release from prison is a fresh start. Where other employers look at former prisoners and see only a risk of re-offending, Ms. McAllister sees multifaceted individuals on the road to a new and productive future.

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