Recidivism has become a huge problem in this country. Statistics show that within three years of being let out of prison, 67.8 percent of those released will end up back behind bars. Within five years, that number increases to 76.6 percent. Clearly, something has to be done about this before the problem escalates any further.
While legislators and policy experts have looked to Congress to fix our broken justice system, entrepreneurs have taken a different approach to the problem. And what they have found is that creating career opportunities for former convicts does more to curb recidivism than any legislation ever could.
Dave’s Killer Bread
In 2005, Dave Dahl, along with his brother Glenn, took a leap of faith and started their own company. The brothers run a bakery in Milwaukie, Oregon which is colorfully named, “Dave’s Killer Bread” and serves a customer base of over one million people. And just as the name of the bakery would imply, Dahl is not your typical entrepreneur.
As both a high school drop out and a formerly incarcerated felon, running a successful business was the last thing many people expected of him years ago. But Dahl has committed his post-incarcerated life to second chances, not only for himself but for others just like him.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Dahl spent 15 years behind bars, serving time for drug dealing, armed robbery, and various other drug-related offenses. In a video documenting his personal journey, Dahl said:
“I was a four-time loser before I realized I was in the wrong game. Fifteen years in prison is a pretty tough way to find one’s self, but I have no regrets. A whole lot of suffering has turned this ex-con into an honest man, who is doing his best to make the world a better place.”
As a former felon himself, Dahl knows firsthand just how difficult it can be to transition from prison back into the real world. Most people don’t realize how hard it is to get back on your feet after spending years isolated from the rest of society. But since both potential landlords and employers typically ask applicants to mark a box if they have ever been convicted of a felony, many are forced to rely on friends or family members while they struggle to become stable again.
Unfortunately, after being locked up for years, many do not have a solid support system to rely on once they are released. And without housing or a job to get you back on your feet, too many former felons are forced to resort back to the same activities that landed them in jail in the first place, whether that be armed robbery, drug dealing, or other unsavory acts.
However, Dave’s Killer Bread has a unique mission and is helping to solve this problem and is leading the way in lowering recidivism.
A Different Approach
While Dave’s Killer Bread operates independently, as of 2015 it is a subsidiary of Flowers Foods Inc., a company most commonly known as the maker of Wonder Bread. But aside from its affiliation with the most iconic sandwich bread in American history, Dave’s Killer Bread is offering something that most other companies are not: a real shot at a second chance.
Dave’s currently employees more than 300 employees and of those workers, 30 percent have a criminal history, just like Dahl. Marty Nash, the company’s president, commented on its hiring practices, saying:
“At Dave’s Killer Bread, we have had more than ten years’ experience hiring people with criminal backgrounds. It’s what we call ‘Second Chance Employment.’ Dave’s Killer Bread has benefited tremendously from individuals with criminal backgrounds who are ready to change. With their ‘attitude of gratitude,’ these employee-partners have become some of our most valued and trusted workers, fueling a company culture that elevates all of us and makes a positive impact on our business.”
Giving these individuals the opportunity to work a decent job not only provides them with the means necessary to rebuild their lives, but it also gives them the sense of self-respect that comes with earning an honest living. However, a steady job isn’t the only way Dave’s is helping these former convicts get back on their feet.
In addition to providing jobs to those willing to work, the company also helps these individuals gain skills to help them secure their future. Dave’s provides its employees with additional resources that help them learn about personal finance as well as offering classes on conflict resolution. Each employee reentering society also gets support from others who have been exactly where they are. By providing individuals with mentors who know exactly what they are going through, the burden of reentry becomes lighter and the chances of recidivism are decreased.
Nash commented on this aspect of the program, saying:
“We have a strong peer support network here. Employee-partners with criminal backgrounds have peers they can talk to who can relate to what they’re going through and show them that lasting change is possible.”
Entrepreneurship is a powerful tool for change and not only for the entrepreneurs themselves. Starting and running a successful business has helped Dahl rebuild his own life. But by creating value in the marketplace, he has also extended that opportunity to others in need of a second chance.