Tony Smith, 30, was paroled in Illinois three months ago after serving time for home invasion and armed robbery, reports the Associated Press. Now he is a beekeeper, tending hives and helping produce upscale beauty and consumer products made from the honey. The job comes by way of Sweet Beginnings, a program that provides ex-convicts with work experience and the start of an employment history. The hives are located in a scrubby urban lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. The 18 hives resemble stacks of small dresser drawers. They contain up to 35,000 bees.
Sweet Beginnings is in neighborhood that was devastated by riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and by the closing of large factories in later years. The area has long wrestled with poverty, unemployment, drugs and crime. The North Lawndale Employment Network – the community organization behind Sweet Beginnings – hopes to change that. The first batch of honey, sold under the brand name Beeline, came out in 2004. It was a hit at farmers markets, and a restaurant created a menu around it. Return on investment in honey is 12 percent, but for honey-based personal products, that return shoots up to 80 percent.