Dave’s Killer Bread founder’s arrest highlights challenges

logoonblackOn the night of Thursday, Nov. 13, Dave Dahl, co-founder of Dave’s Killer Bread, was arrested after ramming three Washington, Ore., County deputy patrol cars. He was released a day later on $20,000 bail, and his attorney told local Portland area press that Dahl was having a mental health crisis.

A former felon, Dahl has received wide local, as well as national, attention for the success he has achieved in recent years.

After being released from his last prison sentence – he was incarcerated four times for a total of 15 years for drug possession, assault and burglary – Dahl rejoined his family’s baking business and developed Dave’s Killer Bread.

With a tagline, “Just Say No to Bread on Drugs,” the bread has developed a near cult following in places where it is sold. These now include most major retails stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Hawaii and Nevada and select stores in Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Dahl has been an inspiration for legions of ex-offenders and those who work with them, not only because of the successful business he created but also because of his hiring practices.

His company responds

In a memo sent to employees on the day after Dave’s arrest, company CEO John Tucker wrote, “We are a passionate group who want to bake the world’s best breads, and also want to make the world a better place one loaf of bread at a time ….. This company is about courage and redemption. It is truly part of our heritage. Nearly 30% of our employees have served time in prison and today are making a better life for themselves and their families.”

Dave reportedly suffers from bouts of depression, but whether his condition is entirely personal or is the result of repercussions from his life behind bars, he’s not alone. Many ex-offenders share a similar situation, and suffer from mental issues brought on by their prison experience.

Surprising few studies have been done – or at least have been publicized – concerning the health conditions of inmates, but the National Commission on Correctional Health Care conducted a three-year national study –which as far as we know is the largest of its type ever undertaken – in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The final report, “The Health Status of Soon-to-be-released Inmates: A Report to Congress,” was delivered to Congress in May 2002 by the National Institute of Justice.

The study found that many inmates suffered mental challenges, but the actual statistics, as far as percentage of the inmate population suffering from mental illness, is not that much different than the U.S. population as a whole. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 26 percent of American adults, age 18 and over, suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder.

In state prisons, the numbers reflecting soon-to-be-released inmates are:

  • 22% to 30% suffered from anxiety disorder.
  • 13% to 19% suffered from major depression.
  • 8% to 14% suffered from dysthymia.
  • 6% to 12% had post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 2% to 5% suffered from bipolar disorder.
  • 2% to 4% suffered from schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

Although the study was conducted more than a decade ago, it would be hard to believe that the situation has improved much.

Will this incident spoil the Killer Bread brand?

While press reports have speculated that this incident could damage the Dave’s Killer Bread brand, it certainly won’t with us. We’re huge fans of both Dave and his bread. As CEO Tucker said in the memo, “We know that this team – our DKB family – has the strength and resolve to continue baking bold breads that families can be proud to buy.”

And we hope they continue their efforts not only to produce some of the most nutritious and delicious commercial bread on the market today but also to serve as a role model for helping those in reentry get employment and get back on their feet.


Challenges facing job seekers

Hidden barriers to employment are rampant, especially for those in reentry. By their very nature these barriers may not be obvious, but they must be overcome if the job seeker is going to be successful.

Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, gave participants at the 2011 Workforce Development Summit in San Jose, Calif. in November advice on just how to do it. But it’s far from easy, as many job developers and counselors know quite well.

Many people face barriers to employment that they don’t want to talk about. One out of three people have criminal records, for example, Robbin says. Ex-offenders may have other barriers as well, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), illiteracy, or problems resulting from domestic or gang violence.

Why are these barriers to employment hidden? Because a lot of shame exists around the barrier, people are trained to hide them. And sometimes they don’t even know these barriers exist.

“The barrier may be so common in their world that they don’t see it as a barrier,” Robbin says. “If someone lives in an area where substance abuse is rampant or illiteracy is high, they might think that’s the norm.”

“Also, you’ll find that people with AIDs or criminal histories are afraid to disclose them, because they’re afraid they’ll be treated differently.”

You have to look at these barriers not just as barriers to employment but as barriers to retention and advancement once they get the job.

Here are some of the most common examples:

  • PTSD. Although one always associates post-traumatic stress disorder with soldiers returning from battle, homeless people test at three times the level of PTSD that combat veterans have. About 75 percent of the incoming freshman class at Compton High in L.A. has PTSD because of all the killings they’ve seen.
  • Relationship control and domestic violence. This can be either from gangs or dating. We should ask job seekers “How do you make decisions?” Is there someone you turn to make decisions and is that healthy, or is someone trying to control that? Once you know the situation you can work with them.
  • Traumatic brain injury. One in four returning vets have this. Babies and kids who have experienced shaken baby syndrome also may have this condition, which can produce memory loss and reading issues.
  • Unsafe or unstable living situations. People couch surfing or doing a lot of partying may have trouble in interviews, because they’re not sleeping well.
  • Fear of leaving income support systems (welfare). One way to get over this barrier is to bring in role models who’ve left welfare and been successful.
  • Drug and or alcohol problems. Heavy alcohol or drug use can result in memory loss.
  • Fear of the world of work. This is a huge hidden barrier. In the fast food industry, 43% of people don’t show up for their first day of work after being hired. In all jobs across the board, 25% of new employees don’t show up.
  • Criminal history. This will be handled in different ways depending on the type of crime committed.
  • Literacy problems. People who are illiterate or semi-literate have special problems that must be dealt with.

Now that hidden barriers have been defined, in our next blog entry we’ll talk about how to deal with them.