This Sustainable Furniture Business Gives Ex-Offenders A Second Chance

A tiny business with big profits is proving that compassionate work policies can benefit the whole community.

Credit: Gracie Furniture

Credit: Gracie Furniture

Gracie furniture is a small business in Dillon, Montana that produces sustainable, durable furniture from local white ash and Douglas fir wood. But it’s not the company’s products that make it so special: its Gracie’s workforce which is made up of ex-offenders who have been given a second chance.

The company hit the headlines this week after business magazine Inc.com listed it in an ongoing series compiling the best of American entrepreneurship. Gracie furniture was the brainchild of James Eldridge, who was inspired to help felons after seeing the devastation a marijuana conviction had on his friend’s life.

“I watched what happened to him,” says Eldridge, whose buddy got a criminal record and struggled to find work after being caught with 10lbs of cannabis. “His future was grim.”

 Eldridge began making furniture in 2011 in Hawaii with an old school friend, before moving to Montana to take over his father’s company, Montana Tables. He re-branded the business, changing its name (Gracie is Eldridge’s sister) and rolling out his plan to give ex-offenders a helping hand. He got in touch with the nearby Beaverhead County Probation and Parole office as well as with the Dillon Job Service Workforce Center, who were glad for his initiative: getting a job is a condition of parole, but most employers wouldn’t risk taking on a convicted felon, especially if their crime was violent or sex-related.

Eldridge, 27, has a policy of talking to potential workers about their records, before telling them their past will never be mentioned again. One recently hired employee spent seven years in an isolation cell and suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but Eldridge says: “He makes beautiful furniture”.  

“The unemployment rate around here is 2.5 percent,” Eldridge says. “The unemployment rate for ex-offenders is 60 percent. They’re right under your nose. “These people deserve to be working and to get a second chance…or a 37th chance.”

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