Ten things you should know about open hiring

Dion Drew, 39, works as a supervisor at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers. Convicted of selling drugs, he served four years in prison before getting hired at Greyston in 2009. Now he's the company's most passionate preacher on the value of giving people a second chance. It helps them, but it also trickles through the whole community, he says, as people like him become alternate role models, showing young people that they don't have to sell drugs to have a good life.

Ten more things you should know about Greyston Bakery and its open hiring process:

(Just to review, the Yonkers supplier of brownies to Ben & Jerry's and Whole Foods skips background checks, skill tests, resumes and references. Applicants put their names on a list and are called when there are openings. The bakery, founded by a Zen master, hires the hard-to-employ -- people with records, with mental illnesses, with disabilities or people who are homeless.)

One: A brownie makes the difference in the neighborhood. Growing up in Yonkers, "the people I knew that sold drugs were winning. They had the cars, the girls, the clothes," said former drug dealer Dion Drew, now a manager at Greyston. The drug dealers were his role models and they mentored him right into prison where he spent four years on drug charges before being released in 2008 and getting a job at Greyston in February 2009.  But, he said, if "the youth see people with jobs, that will trickle down. They can see that they are doing something productive with their lives."

Two: Many people who sell drugs have never had a "real job." When they come out of prison, they have had zero experience with traditional job search practices, including interview. "I'd be nervous and shaky," Drew said. "I never had a job in the past." The Greyston job came in the nick of time. Coming out of prison, he had vowed to stay crime-free, but his resolve was slipping.  

Three: Legitimacy is its own reward. "I just bought a car. I have life insurance, dental insurance," Drew said. As a drug dealer, he said he owned plenty of cars, but he was scared and unhappy. "Now I'm striving to get these things legally. It's about being happy and now I'm happy and I'm still getting these things."

Four: People will fail, and so it's important to factor that into the program design. They have to be ready. "Everybody is not going to catch on, but for the people that do, it's the right thing," Drew said.

Five: Yes, there is turnover, but "people are incredibly grateful for the opportunity," said Greyston chief executive Mike Brady. They yearn to live a "legal life and the opportunity to do that is a gift for these team members. They are making a choice between a legal life and a life on the streets." Brady said that the awareness of that as a choice was a new understanding that he didn't have with his background as an educated executive who grew up in a middle-class family.

Click here to listen to a WHYY interview by Katie Colaneri with Mike Brady and Dion Drew.

Six: Exactly, says Drew. "I love everything about my job. Everybody we hire here has been in the same position I've been in." Actually, Drew isn't really fond of baking or working in the kitchen, but he loves being a missionary for open hiring. "That's what makes it a beautiful story. This could be a great thing in every city." 

Seven: Credibility really matters to Brady. In low-income areas, "they believe there's going to be some kind of bait-and-switch," he said. "Too often people in low-income areas are not provided with genuine opportunities for success." Operationally, this meant developing a clear system of standards and explaining, upfront, that failure to meet them would lead to dismissal.

Eight: However, Brady said, that's where the Zen principle of "loving action" kicks in. "Too often, someone will be allowed to fail and mess up if they aren't told what they are doing wrong. It takes energy to provide people with the right guidance to be successful," he said. Greyston operates on a point system and when employees accrue a certain number of points, they are fired. But, managers monitor the points and check in to see if there are obstacles that can be resolved. At the same time, Greyston won't use artificial means, such as text reminders sent two hours before a shift. "We don't put in unnatural crutches to help them succeed," Brady said. "We want people to be successful [on their own], and each additional day I can keep them here gives them a chance to lead a legal life."

Nine: All the services designed by Greyston were intended to remove obstacles that would keep people from being successful at the bakery. For example, childcare is often a barrier. Greyston helps people get childcare even when they work odd shifts. "We can train family members to be certified caretakers," said Greyston's CEO Mike Brady. Certifications mean that family members may be able to be paid by the state for babysitting.

Ten: Under New York law, Greyston is known as as a "Benefit Corp.," which means that shareholders care equally about financial gain and social impact. The bakery, which is profitable, uses most of its profits to reinvest in the business for equipment, new distribution lines and expanded facilities. Other profits go to the Greyston Foundation which has developed affordable childcare and housing. Some of these enterprises, including a workforce development open hiring training component, are intended to make some money, or at least be partly self-sustaining.

This piece was produced by the Inquirer, the Daily News,  Philly.com and WHYY for The Reentry Project, a citywide collaborative news initiative on the challenges facing people returning from prison, and what can be done about them.