Serving up jobs to ex-cons

The Felony Franks logo. The place is controversial not because it only hires ex-cons -- which it does -- but for making fun of their jail time.

An employee at Felony Franks reaches for the mustard.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Later this week, we'll find out how many jobs the U.S. economy created in May, as well as what the unemployment rate is in this country. While the jobless rate is slowly declining, there's one segment of the population that'll always have trouble finding work: Ex-cons.

But as Yolanda Perdomo reports from station WDCB, two companies in the Chicago area are hiring only ex-cons.



Yolanda Perdomo: At a coffee roaster in Wheaton, Ill., Louis Dooley sifts through sacks of beans to be processed. The company is called I Have A Bean. It sells coffee to Chicago area Whole Foods stores. Dooley joined in 2010, after serving 15 years for assault.

Louis Dooley: If they're willing to give me a chance, you know what? I'm going to work my tail off for these people and I'm going to show them that they made the right choice by choosing me.

Owner Pete Leonard says he wanted to give people a second chance. Leonard says when he worked for a software company, a co-worker was jailed.

Pete Leonard: When he got out, our insurance company for our employer said there's too much risk. You got to fire this guy.

All seven of his employees served time for a variety of crimes, from forgery to armed robbery.

Leonard: We end up knowing, as an employer, much more as a risk associated with any individual because they listed what their issues are.

But many employers look at the stats. A Pew study shows that 43 percent of felons in the U.S. end up back in jail. Employers can bypass qualified applicants who happen to be ex-cons, according to labor analyst John Challenger.

John Challenger: Those people put their time in, they need to find their way back into the workplace. Taking a chance is one of the ways that change happens.

Felony Franks cashier: Welcome to Felony Franks.  Are you ready to plead your case?

On Chicago's west side, a hot dog joint called Felony Franks sells items like the Chain Gang Chili Dog and the Misdemeanor Wiener. The place is controversial, not because it only hires ex-cons -- which it does -- but for making fun of their jail time.

It doesn't bother Kevin Jones. He's worked there for three years ago after serving time on drug charges.

Kevin Jones: It gave me the opportunity to see that my own self worth is a lot more than what I even envisioned for myself. Sometimes it takes other people to see things in you that you don't see yourself.

In Chicago, I'm Yolanda Perdomo for Marketplace.

An employee at Felony Franks reaches for the mustard.


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