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Entrepreneur Turns Ex-Cons Into Beekeepers: Keeping Them From Returning to Prison




Ah the prison system…I certainly have my doubts about the justice system and the “rehabilitation” methods used on people in prison. It seems as though, no matter how much “rehabilitating” is done, people still seem to end up returning back to prison…must be the food.

Nonetheless, whether you agree or not, there is no denying that it is practically impossible for ex-cons to find a job once they have served their time, especially without having prior work experience.  This truth is exactly why a Chicago woman, Brenda Palms-Barber created Sweet Beginnings.

Sweet Beginnings is just as the name implies, an organization that is sweet like honey and provides a new start for many ex cons.

In Chicago’s North Lawndale neighbourhood, more than 57% of adults have had run ins with the criminal justice system, and about a fourth of the 45,000 people released each year, return back to prison. This fact alone is what motivated Brenda to do something about it.

Sweet Beginnings is a non-profit organization that makes honey and honey products like lotion, lip balm and soap. Brenda employs ex cons who then go through a 90 day training program before they are hired on a part time basis. Unfortunately, the company does not have enough jobs to employ the hundreds of people who apply every month.

Beekeeping Bees Chicago

As of now, each employee is only given 90 days of work, however, this is enough time to implement some work experience that can later be added to a resume, but more importantly, its enough time to give someone’s life a positive purpose.

“My whole outlook on life has changed. Every day I wake up, I am glad to come to work.”-Patricia Jackson

“I used to run from bees. Now I know not to do that. And I’ve learned a lot of skills that I didn’t know I had in me. I could stand here for hours, extracting, just in my zone. It’s a fun working environment and we’re like a family.”- VonKisha Adams

“I think God made the bee before us, because all things bees produce are beneficial for us. If we continue to destroy the environment, the bee is going to die. And if the bee dies, I think we follow.” -Christian Petre


This organization is doing more than just creating beekeepers. During Adams’s 90-day training program, she received help composing a resume, finding a permanent job at the Chicago Transit Authority, and building her credit. Not only that,  when Adams graduated, Brenda hired her part-time to give product demonstrations, which she proved to be quite good at.

“Coming from the streets, I’ve learned to deal with a lot of types of people.”- Adams

The products made by Sweet Beginnings  are sold around the city at about 10 Whole Foods stores, farmers markets, and a local supermarket chain. In the future, Brenda hopes to start a franchise model with similar companies around the country and hopes to make the jobs full-time and expand them past 90 days.

Brenda also  has a knack for bee puns that can’t go unrecognised:

“We want to pollinate this model across the country.”

“We take the sting out of incarceration.”

We were all once innocent children.


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