Business

‘I Can Get Up Every Day And Feel Good About What I’m Doing.’ St. Louis Bakery Offers Felons Work, Second Chances

By Nassim Benchaabane
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Kalen McAllister, 66, a Buddhist priest and retired chaplain at the Farmington Correctional Center has created a unique non-profit that is serving the community and individuals who are trying to re-enter society.

ST. LOUIS

Bakers at a small downtown shop here need not have prior kitchen experience. Just a felony record.

Laughing Bear Bakery founder Kalen McAllister never asks job candidates what landed them behind bars. She just hopes her growing nonprofit can keep them from going back by providing above-minimum-wage pay, a place to learn job skills and build a work history, and a support network to lean on in tough times.

“I don’t care what they did in the past,” said McAllister, 66, a Buddhist priest and retired chaplain at the Farmington Correctional Center. “I only care what they do this day forward.”

About 19,000 inmates in Missouri are released each year; about 44 percent of former inmates eventually end up back behind bars, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Lack of community support and the inability to find a good job are primary reasons ex-offenders, many of whom also battle mental health issues or drug addiction, return to jail, McAllister said. Inmates who aren’t released on parole get a one-way ticket back to the jurisdiction of their crime with little cash and just the clothes on their back, she said.

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