A woman who spent 10 months behind bars is sharing her story and building a social enterprise using popcorn—featuring flavours like “Jailhouse Cheese” and “Gen Pop.”
After a vacation in 2015, Emily O’Brien, along with her boyfriend, arrived at Pearson International Airport with drugs strapped to her body. Both were arrested by police.
“I grew up as a good kid,” she told CTV News Toronto. “I had good grades. I was always in sports. I had a very loving child … and I think my desire to be loved by someone else got me caught up in that.”
O’Brien entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to four years behind bars at the Grand Valley Institute in Kitchener, but was released after 10 months. She said that she used that time as “as sabbatical.”
“I’m being forced to take time off to change my habits and build something different and productive.”
It was in prison that she was struck with inspiration. She said she noticed that some inmates were making their own popcorn recipes and thought she could expand on the idea and build it into a social enterprise.
O’Brien said that above all else, she wanted the business—called “Cons & Kernels”—to do more than “just pop popcorn.”
“If you can impact people around the world with stories like this and either prevent them from going down a similar path or at least give them hope or inspiration that they can come out of prison … you can still rise above it. But it does take collective strength.”
“Cons & Kernels” offers a variety of popcorn flavours, with many named after O’Brien’s personal prison experience, such as the “Gen Pop,” which is made with coconut oil and sea salt.
Other flavours like “Lemon Pepper Dill” and “Jailhouse Cheese” were created by her fellow inmates using spices available in prison.
The slogan for “Cons & Kernels” is “popcorn so good, it’s criminal.” Through the business, O’Brien hopes to raise awareness and provide opportunities to those with criminal backgrounds. She has hired two employees who are both former prison inmates and is also donating 10 per cent of her profits to the Yonge Street Mission.
While she will still be on probation until 2022, O’Brien hopes her business will be as international as the drug trade she once participated in.
“My focus has realigned and my attitude has changed,” she said. “I finally know where my life’s going.”
O’Brien has opened up a pop-up shop in Toronto near Bremner Boulevard and Spadina Avenue that will operate for the next two week between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Coming next week! We are opening a Pop up for 2 weeks! Come try some popcorn, meet some of the staff and challenge yourself on some #prison trivia. We also have some prison photo albums and inmate handbook!@JohnTory @marksaunderstps hope to see you there! pic.twitter.com/3OdJGaUv9U— Cons & Kernels (@consandkernels) September 24, 2019