I went to prison on a mission. A mission to change myself and a mission to make a difference. I didn't know how I’d make a difference at the time, but I knew I would find something I cared about that would benefit from a purpose driven facelift.
Coming to prison as a first-time offender was unnerving, and I felt so much anxiety at first. If you think its hard on the outside to eat a healthy diet, being in prison brings that challenge to the next level. I think most people I shared my time with would attest to the fact that food is often a way to combat anxiety and depression. Maintaining a healthy balance is difficult, and when this poses a challenge to your self image it just makes an already depressing situation worse, like adding insult to injury.
It was only a month or so in when I noticed that some of the women were making their own popcorn recipes with the ingredients possible within the food budget. I was instantly struck by how really smart and creative it was. Popcorn was like this simple blank canvas for women of all backgrounds to express themselves through different mixes of spices and other flavours.
A lot of people love popcorn, and it is cheap to buy and goes a long way. It's also so much healthier than baked goods and most of the junk food that was available in the canteen. It is one of those snacks you can eat a lot of when you feel restless and bored and not feel super guilty about it. It’s also a social snack. You usually make a giant bowl of it for you and your friends to share over some conversation, games or watching something on TV. You can also just eat one kernel at a time, the bowl can last for hours, and you do not have to worry about gaining weight.
So it all sort of all came together at once: I would start a popcorn company that uses high quality health-conscious ingredients and makes unique flavours inspired by the ones we made inside prison. Most of all, it try to remove some of the stigma of having prior convictions by being totally fun and having a sense of humour about itself. The company can give offenders the opportunity and confidence to gain and maintain pro-social employment, keeping the community safer by helping ex-cons refrain from returning to their old ways. It just seemed like all the stars had aligned and overnight it became my mission to build this company. Cons and Kernels, made with conviction!
"You are an excellent worker, Chris. We'd love to have you on board but we cannot hire former convicts."
Cannot or will not? I've been temping with agencies since my release. I've been the hardest working, minimum wage employee for over 2 years. Is that not proof enough I'm worth hiring? I had 5 rejections before it sunk in that no matter how hard I worked or how qualified I was, no one would hire me; exploit me, yes, but not hire. It was time for a change.
I attended a university course at McMaster. The professor recommend I attend full-time. I applied. Another rejection due to my out-of-province education provided by Corrections Canada. After many weeks to months of hoop-jumping and arguments, it was suggested that I attend Mohawk College. Nothing ever came of my education and never picked up another job so I made a living on the dark side - criminal activity.
I returned to the familiar environment of prison behavior. This negative lifestyle reinforced the idea that I can no longer function in society; that I would always be a criminal so I began to live what others thought. The memories are still fresh in the minds of the neighborhood as to the surprising violence I can emit.
I began to notice it was time to change around the new year 2019; coincidental as I am not a resolution believer. I began rejecting the culture, my behavior and sought meaningful change.
In January, an article appeared in The Spec about this ambitious woman who made something of her time. What a noteworthy person!
My earnest effort to change was noticed. I had an agency back my current educational pursuit by fully funding it. Personal supports continually offer encouragement to maintain my positive pursuits.
Months later, this remarkable person ended up as a guest speaker at The Bridge: Hamilton. She shared her story and her plans for Cons & Kernels. I was hooked and eager to sign up. However, communication died off so the enthusiasm subsided.
Several weeks went by and her launch date was near so I pretty much gave up; until Emily showed up at the Bridge again, took my information and called me to help her launch.
I felt no judgement. I felt encouraged and supported. I was given whatever responsibility I wanted and could handle. Emily accommodated my skills and abilities. I finally felt qualified. I began to feel useful. Employers who overlooked me will be Emily's gain! Thank you for your vision. I hope my contribution will benefit your goals.