Ask business owners what qualities they most want in employees, and the answers are the same in almost any industry: They want workers who will be reliable, show initiative, have the right skills, will think on their feet and can learn.
Doug Wade, owner and operator of Wade’s Dairy in Bridgeport, has come up with a nontraditional hiring method that is serving him very well. Where many of his peers won’t even consider hiring someone who has been incarcerated, Doug has many such people on his payroll. They have proved so reliable, and his experiences have been so good, he says, “that I’d almost go out and look for them.”
Of his 69 employees, several are formerly incarcerated, serving in a variety of positions. Many say they are grateful to be working for a family-owned company, where they feel they are respected and valued, and they are glad to be able to have the opportunity to do good work and have their efforts recognized.
“I have been here almost five years and I haven’t missed a day,” said Anthony Burden, 47, a night manager. “I love my job and put everything into it. I love being here and I don’t want to let anyone else down.”
“If more employers took a chance on people, we would all be better off,” added William L. Barnett III, a driver. “Doug Doug treats us like family, he treats us like people. We’re not afraid to talk to him or ask him for anything. I like this feeling – it makes me feel like I’m a person, like I’m important, like I’m more than just a delivery person.” Anthony agrees. “You don’t usually get owners who treat you like family. Doug has tried to send me home when I’m sick.”
Doug began hiring formerly incarcerated workers years ago, prompted by Dan Braccio, founder and co-chair of the Bridgeport ReEntry Collaborative, and Charles Grady, who set up Project Longevity and Hang Time in Bridgeport, and who now works for the FBI. William and others came to Wade’s through Charles, and they credit him with providing support and resources that have helped them succeed.
“I’m more than a piece of paper that tells you what I once did,” said William. “I was a knucklehead. My parents were addicts and I dealt drugs as a way to support myself and my younger siblings. I realized it was wrong, and still did it for a while, but when I got out of prison the last time I knew I had to make a change.” Getting his CDL license engaged his mind and his whole self, and he is now motivated and “giving out positive energy.”
Anthony’s brother, Gelzer S. Burden, 37, also works at Wade’s, and points out that many formerly incarcerated people have experience, business sense and talent that often goes overlooked. “Someday I want to be like Doug – I want to run my own company,” he said.
All three men advised others in their situation to remain positive and be persistent.
“Look at me,” said Anthony. “I make good money, I have a job I love and I can be close to my kids and my grandchildren. People are supposed to get a second chance, and look what happens when they get it.”