Sweet Beginnings, Inspires Skin Body, Inspires YOU

“It isn’t about what we see as a flower or a weed, it’s just drawing the good out of that plant source and transforming it into something that is sweet and good.” –  Brenda Palms Barberinspire 1

Sweet Beginnings, a wholly owned subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) and offers 90-day transitional jobs for previously incarcerated individuals and others who feel difficult to find jobs. The NLEN is a leading non-profit organization. Sweet Beginnings produces and sells all-natural skin care products featuring its own urban honey.

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The company provides training and working experience at the beginning for helping ex-prisoners to obtain skills. In the second step, ex-prisoners are transferred  to outside workplaces, such as market positions in manufacturing, food service, distribution, warehousing, customer service and others.

The recidivism rate for former Sweet Beginnings employees is below 4%, comparing  American national average of 65% and the Illinois average of 55%. 275 ex-offenders have been given a second chance by Sweet Beginnings since 2007. I believe the company not only save 275 lives but also 275 families even more.

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Brenda Palms Barber is the Founding Executive Director and CEO of the NLEN. She can’t separate from the success of Sweet Beginnings in rehabilitation of ex-prisoners. She put faith in company’s operation and pollinates faith among the people who get a chance to work after release.

Job creation for ex-offenders is a controversial topic, but it’s significantly important for people and our society. A majority of employers still wouldn’t like to hire people with criminal record due to a concern of risk to business. “We have to be their first employers,” Barber said, “We have to prove to society that people who did bad things, people who need second chances, can be positive in the workplace, that they will be loyal and hard-working and honest employees.”

Ex-prison Employees’ stories

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Sweet Beginnings team members pose with some of the products the apiary produces. Photo Courtesy Sweet Beginnings.
Sweet Beginnings team members pose with some of the products the apiary produces. Photo by Courtesy Sweet Beginnings.

Amir Futrell, spent six years in jail because of selling cocaine. He felt difficult to live and support two kids after release. “I didn’t want to revert to what brought me into the penitentiary, so I was looking for a new way,” he said. “You have to try something different and this was it.” One day, Futrell found Barber and her bees. “It makes me feel great, makes me feel like a good father, a good person,” Futrell said.

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Arturo Fleites, Photo by Andreas Larsson

Arturo Fleites was a burglar, drug dealer and club bouncer. He was arrested and put in jail four times. He was 35 years old when he was released. He was ready to find a job and make a honest living but didn’t get any chance.

“I was looking for a job so bad. I don’t know how many places I went to,” he said,     “Interviewers aren’t trying to be rude, but once you tell them you have a record — you have to, because they’re going to find out anyway — they’re like, ‘We’ll get back to you.’ ” However, in January 2002, he was hired by Sweet Beginnings. After the 90-day training, he got two offers: one is cleaning train platform for the Chicago Transit Authority and the other one is permanent supervisor at Sweet Beginnings. He took the Sweet Beginnings job because he felt a supervisory position would look better to future employers.

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We are not only inspired by others but also can inspire others!

-Xinru Liu

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