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How One Company Is Using Honey To Provide New Beginnings For Former Inmates

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The United States incarcerates more citizens per capita than any other nation in the world. Approximately 688,000 individuals are released from prison each year, not including the enormous number cycling through local jails each year, according to statistics.

This number includes 57% of the adults of North Lawndale, a Chicago suburb.

For the past 15 years, the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) has been working with formally incarcerated individuals through their U-Turn Permitted job readiness program. The four-week program includes instruction on topics ranging from conflict resolution and anger management to resume development and financial coaching, as well as application assistance and interview workshops after completion of the program.

Sweet Beginnings
Photo courtesy of Ryan Schuessler

Unfortunately, in 2004, NLEN came to the conclusion that there were not enough employment opportunities or willing employers for the graduates. Luckily they came up with a solution: Sweet Beginnings, an urban beekeeping company that offers a product line of all natural raw honey and honey-infused body care products. They use a low impact and organic method of beekeeping where the bees provide “urban honey” by collecting pollen from a variety of sources on Chicago’s west side landscape, from Midwestern plant sources to exotics imported from individuals in the area.

This provides customers with a unique flavor that is not available anywhere else. They do not treat their bees with antibiotics or kill them for honey extraction.

Sweet Beginnings
Photo courtesy of Ryan Schuessler

Sweet Beginnings offers full-time, transitional employment for those formerly incarcerated individuals who have several barriers to finding a job elsewhere. Employees complete training in several different areas, including beekeeping certification, customer service, computer literacy, shipping and packing, inventory and quality control, and financial literacy. These new skill sets open up job opportunities in manufacturing, retail, distribution and other industries.

As founder and CEO Brenda Palms-Barber says:

“Sweet Beginnings provides a fresh start, by changing or redirecting the narrative of ones criminal background, to the work they are doing today as a beekeeper and the work responsibilities and skills they have gained. The employer begins to focus on how the sweet beginnings’ employee can fit in their workplace all while learning more about the value of the honeybee and its work ethic.”

Since 2005, Sweet Beginnings has hired more than 400 employees. Each employee works for three months to receive all training and work experience. Afterward, the North Lawndale Employment Network will help provide job placement with employers who have come to respect the work of Sweet Beginnings. There is an 85% success rate in job placement while another 10% of employees choose to use their new skill set for self-employment.

Sweet Beginnings
Photo courtesy of Ryan Schuessler

Nationally, about 68% of former inmates are re-incarcerated within three years of being released from prison. Fortunately, the work of Sweet Beginnings significantly lowers this number in the North Lawndale community. After three years, less than 4% of Sweet Beginnings employees have returned to prison.

Sweet Beginnings offers just that: a sweet beginning for individuals looking to turn their life around while providing a healthy environment for the always-important bees during a time we are seeing a decrease in bee population.

To learn more about Sweet Beginnings or to purchase some (delicious) raw honey or all-natural skin care products, please visit their website.

By Sky Fisher 

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Sky Fisher

Sky Fisher is a small-town country girl with a passion for travel. She has a love affair with Central America and currently calls Costa Rica home. Follow her adventures at Sky vs World.

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