Dave's Killer Bread founder interviews work force specialist
Dave Dahl, founder of Milwaukie-based Dave's Killer Bread, recently interviewed a county official dedicated to preventing relapses into criminal behavior among those lately released from Clackamas County Jail.
During his weekly broadcast, Dahl interviews fellow ex-convicts who have launched companies after serving time in prison. Dahl asked Doug Vanzant, a Clackamas County work force specialist, about how the county assists those who struggle with employment due to their past choices that involved breaking the law.
"One in every five families in the U.S. has at least one family member who is involved with the criminal justice system," said Vanzant, who has helped break down barriers for ex-felons over a nearly 20-year period by using his personal experience as well as evidence-based motivational practices. "If I'm helping people change their lives and get jobs, then I'm helping the community stay safe."
Vanzant explained that successful employment and being valued for positive contributions can change a person's outlook and reduces recidivism.
"Sometimes a person will fall down multiple times before they succeed in making changes that stick," Vanzant said. "If I see someone is trying to make an effort, I will lead by example and never give up on them. My priority is to my client."
Vanzant talked about his life after being incarcerated himself, the days following his release from prison when he was able to turn his life experiences into a future of leading by positive example and helping others.
Vanzant told Dahl that he grew up in a dysfunctional family, which Vanzant said he attempted to escape by focusing on sports, but he started using drugs and alcohol by the age of 14.
"I made numerous poor choices," Vanzant said. "Consequently I spent 24 years of my life in treatment centers, mental health facilities, psych wards, jails, prisons."
Since being released from prison in 2002, Vanzant said he's been full of energy, and enjoys being involved with community activities and assisting people.
He was released to restitutional housing in Washington County with only $20, a pair of sweatpants and shower shoes to his name, but he said he was focused on never returning to prison again.
"I got a job at a warehouse, which was not my trade, but I was willing to do whatever it took to get my life back on track," Vanzant said.
Despite his incarceration, as well as overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame and remorse, Vanzant earned a reputation for helping others and made a plan.
"People can change," said Vanzant, whose plan included sharing his own experiences of incarceration and transformation to help people.
He has worked for the nonprofit Bridges to Change, where he became the program director, taking the organization from two to 60 employees. Bridges to Change operates a transitional services program in Clackamas County. Vanzant has worked on behalf of the Clackamas County Workforce Program for the past five years.
"I love my job, and I can't wait to get to work each day," he said. "I like to see people walk in determined to change their lives, and I help them become successful — give people every chance to succeed."
Vanzant now has former clients paying it forward by working in positions where they are able to hire his current clients.
"Don't give up on people," he said.
Dahl recently started his weekly Felony Inc. podcast after recovering from a return to jail in November 2013 following a "severe manic episode" triggered by previously undiagnosed bipolar mental illness.
Dahl threatened staff at the Milwaukie "breadquarters," destroyed a life-size cutout of himself, then later that day rammed two police cars. He cut a deal with prosecutors, was found "guilty except for insanity," and stayed out of prison.
Dahl spent 15 years in and out of prison for drug offenses before his 2005 founding of the Milwaukie-made organic multigrain bread company that would fill pantries of homes across America.
Dave's Killer Bread sold for $275 million in 2015, and Dahl developed one of the largest African art collections on the West Coast as a benefit for nonprofit causes like African hunger and Portland-area homelessness.
"In my mind, I was already successful before I started Dave's Killer Bread," Dahl told Vanzant during the show. "Success is not about money, it's not about fame."
To hear more about Vanzant's story and his mission to help others succeed after incarceration, listen to the Sept. 13 podcast on startupradionetwork.com.
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