Dave’s Killer Bread is inspiration for ex-felons

Dave at work making Dave’s Killer Bread.

I’m convinced that there are ex-offender success stories all around us. You just have to be on the lookout for them.

It happened to me the other day at Safeway. I was in the bread aisle trying to decide what to buy, when a bold wrapper like I’d never seen before caught my eye. The words “Dave’s Killer Bread” screamed out from the shelf. My first thought was maybe this was made by an ex-offender or maybe it’s just “killer” good. As it turns out, it is both.

First about the bread. The loaf I bought, Powerseed, is all organic, full of fiber, slightly sweet – thanks to the inclusion of three types of juices – and contains countless seeds, a better mixture and more of them than I think I’ve ever seen in commercial bread.

The bread is impressive, but the guy who developed it is even more so. Dave Dahl spent a total of 15 years in four trips to prison for crimes of theft and dealing methamphetamines. Although he was trained in computer aided drafting/machining while incarcerated and thought he would continue that career upon release, the poor food in prison inspired a desire to work in his parent’s bakery business once again, as he had when he was younger.

Dave longed for tasty wholesome bread just like that baked by his father, a Seventh Day Adventist who pioneered sprouted wheat breads and was determined to change the world by encouraging healthy eating through the products he sold at his neighborhood bakery in Portland. That bakery later became NatureBake and was sold to his son, Dave’s brother.

Once released from his last prison stint in late 2004, Dave decided to rejoin the family business with his brother and was put in charge of bread development. The result is Dave’s Killer Bread. The company now makes 17 different types of breads, all organic and mostly low fat and high fiber. The tag line, “Just Say No to Bread on Drugs,” will give you an idea of just how far baker Dave has come.

His bread is sold at stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Nevada and can also be mail-ordered online at http://www.daveskillerbread.com.

In addition to making great bread, Dave has made it a point to help others like himself. From a handful of employees, the company has grown to about 240 workers, 30 percent of whom are ex-felons.

And my story just shows that there are job leads and ideas in places you’d least expect – like the aisles of a major grocery store. Where are you going to find yours?


How to close the referral gap

The referral gap is a barrier that job developers must deal with on a regular basis.

People often need to go to a referral resource to deal with their barriers, but many won’t go. Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, offers advice on how to close that gap and ensure that job seekers with hidden barriers to employment seek out the extra help they need.

Here are a few ways to make sure that happens:

  • Organize a partner agency referral system and cross train each other. Through that process you can try to find a crack in the system that no agency is dealing with and collaborate on finding a funding source to take care of it.
  • Introduce the notion of referrals to your clients early on. In the orientation say you don’t know everything about everything and you will refer them to specialists who can help them.
  • Take photos of the resource. When Robbin’s clients did this so that job seekers could see exactly where they would be going, his clients increased referral throughput by 38 percent.
  • Sell the resource. Don’t just describe it. Tell them your track record with the resource. This will give clients the confidence that they’re not wasting their time.
  • Refer people to a person not a place, and sell them on that person. People will be much more likely to go if there’s a name and not just an address.
  • Use referral-resource alumni. Connect the job seeker to someone who has used that resource. That person can tell them – probably better than you could — about their experience and what it was like to go there.
  • Have your client make an appointment while they are meeting with you.
  • Position yourself as a referral-system advocate. Encourage them and talk up the resources.
  • Schedule a timely follow-up. Talk to clients right after they go to their appointments, either in person or on the phone. Get feedback and pass it on to the resource so they can improve their services.
  • Create an agreement that will encourage job seekers facing hidden barriers to succeed. It can have the following format:




Job seeker name:


Today I promise to take a big step forward to improve my life. Today I will



The benefits of doing this will be



The employment specialist agrees to help by



We agree to work together to make this important step as successful as possible.


______________________                __________________________

Client signature                                             Your signature


How to deal with hidden barriers

In our last post we defined hidden barriers to employment. In this one we are once again going to rely on Larry Robbin to help us determine how to deal with those barriers.

Here are a few tips:

  • The way for job developers to get people to talk about their barriers is to talk about their own first. A successful technique that Larry Robbin uses is to tell people his own hidden barriers to employment, such as the fact that he’s hard of hearing, is a cancer survivor and has PTSD.
  • Talk about common hidden barriers you see in your program. When you bring up the hidden barriers early, it starts people on the process of recognizing and working on them and can help lower their denial and resistance.
  • Talking about how you and your program helped people overcome these barriers gives a person hope. They will be more likely to be successful in eliminating the barrier.
  • Have people who have overcome hidden barriers speak in your group orientations.
  • Distribute a list of the most common hidden barriers to employment seen in your program with information on how they were overcome.
  • Work from a social systems model to get the input of others who know the jobseeker. Find out what these people know that you don’t know and what they see that you don’t see.
  • Have program participations, staff or other people who have overcome hidden barriers teach you how to spot them.
  • Celebrate the strength it took to acknowledge the barrier. Talk bout how this strength will help the jobseeker deal with that barrier. It’s important to celebrate the breakthroughs. Many people only concentrate on the negative stuff, not the good stuff.
  • Talk about how dealing with the barrier will not only help the individual but also the other people in their lives.
  • Conduct workplace tours and employer panels to get people comfortable with the idea of going back to work.

In the past two blog entries, we’ve dealt with defining and dealing with hidden barriers to employment. In our next entry, we’ll discuss how to close the referral gap.

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.