Bees Give Ex-Convicts A Second Chance

You might wonder how a tiny bee can be at the heart of an urban renewal story. But then, some bees are doing more than just making honey — they are giving people like Gerald Whitehead and Tony Smith a second chance.

"I've been in and out of prison since the time I hit 17 years old," Whitehead told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"I'm 31 and I was incarcerated for 14½ years," Smith said.

That's a story you hear here a lot in North Lawndale, a Chicago neighborhood of 45,000 where nearly 6 in 10 adults have a criminal record. One in four is unemployed.

When Brenda Palms-Barber came here to start a jobs bank, she knew finding work for people with a record — and no real job skills — would take some inspiration. She never imagined it would take some insects, too.


"One friend of mine, just by chance, said, 'you know my husband's a beekeeper,' and I thought, 'What do you need to do or to know in order to be a beekeeper?'" said Palms-Barber of the North Lawndale Employment Network. "She goes, 'well, actually, it's a profession that's passed on by word of mouth.'"

Which makes it easy for anyone to learn. Now former armed robbers and gang leaders tend hives and harvest honey. They mix and package Bee Line, a product line that's been an experiment in just about every way.

"When we took the honey to farmers' markets, people clamored around our table. And then they discovered who was behind producing the honey and they loved it even more," Palms-Barber said.

The skin care line, including body polisher and exfoliant, is available online as well as on the shelves of a local Whole Foods grocery.

So far 27 men have gone through the three-month program and found long-term jobs. Whitehead says the bees have taught him a invaluable lesson.

"In order for them to survive, they have to do this work," Whitehead said. "If they don't do this work, they can't survive. If I don't do a job, I can't survive."

Barber hopes to expand her workforce from eight to 100 in the coming year, providing one "new beginning" at a time — and proving something sweet can come out of people and a place with a bittersweet past.
  • Christine Lagorio

Comments

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter