Bees give ex-offenders new start in life

June 2, 2011 (CHICAGO)

It's part of a new project that hopes to help give ex-offenders a new start and a new career.

Darrell Williams is all suited up for another day at work. But this is no ordinary job. And the jobsite is no ordinary place.

On the outer edges of O'Hare Airport, men who have done time now spend their time learning to raise bees.

"I've gained deeper respect for going to work. The pride I feel everyday going to work is unmeasurable [sic]," said Williams.

"Notice how they store honey around where they live," said Williams.

O'Hare is the first airport in the nation that's home to an apiary, essentially a bee farm where honey is harvested and careers bloom.

"Today right now we're in bee suits. Later today we'll be manufacturing and extracting honey and just infusing it into our skincare products. It's hands-on experience at all different levels," said Mark Heins.

"It taught me patience and discipline, because you have to be patient when dealing with the bees, not so hyper and energetic," said Curtis Camps.

Skeptics buzzed four years ago when North Lawndale Employment Network's Brenda Palms Barber pitched the idea for ex-offenders to raise bees and use their honey for skincare products.

Today, you'll find "Bee Love" sold in Whole Foods and dozens of other retailers. More than 325 people have found jobs through the program.

"What they didn't get is it was really about building a business and honey was just one component of that business and today it's thriving," said Palms Barber.

Talk about busy bees: Each of these hive will produce 150 pounds of honey every season. Half of it will go into products; the other half will stay right here for the bees to feed on all winter long.

Bees and their honey: A sweet beginning that these men hope will bring them a happy ending.

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