In 2009, Seth Sundberg was sentenced to five years for a fraudulent $5 million tax refund. The former pro basketball player had managed a California mortgage office and went from a comfortable living in the real estate industry to earning $5.25 a month in the prison kitchen. While working in that position, Sundberg noticed a label on a box of frozen chicken that said “Not for Human Consumption.”
That discovery led him to swear off prison poultry forever. He began to look for nutritious, protein-rich foods in the commissary to supplement the subpar institutional meals. He developed a recipe with another prisoner using trail mix, oatmeal, peanut butter and honey that merged to form a tasty, satisfying granola bar. Soon Sundberg and his partner were making about $200 per month selling the bars to other prisoners.
Upon his release, Sundberg sought help from a nonprofit whose motto is “transform your hustle.” Defy Ventures offered him mentorship, business training and a small amount of funding; a year later, Sundberg launched a company called Prison Bars.
Prison Bars now uses organic, non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients in its “criminally delicious” snacks. The company markets and distributes the bars online and in the San Francisco area; it currently employs six people – four of them formerly incarcerated. Sundberg is planning to expand into ten other cities with representatives who have left prison and face an adversarial job market. Prison Bars has also partnered with the grocery store chain Bi-Rite, which will start carrying the granola bars in September 2016.
“Everyone’s made mistakes, and everyone’s been given a second chance at some point,” Sundberg said. “My vision was to see if people cared about this topic, to start having conversations that raise awareness. You never know what kind of ripple effect that can cause.” According to the Prison Bars website, “Each purchase of criminally delicious Prison Bars supports our movement to provide redemption and second chances, reduce recidivism, and raise awareness of America’s prison issues.”
Sources: www.time.com, www.prison-bars.com
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