James Eldridge owns Gracie Furniture, a company in the tiny town of Dillon, deep in the Montana Rockies. Dillon is out there, but most Gracie employees don't mind the boonies. Half of them have criminal records. One new hire spent seven years in isolation and suffers from schizophrenia, but he makes beautiful furniture.
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When Eldridge took over the company and rebranded it, many former employees left and a few had to be dismissed. This created an opportunity. Unemployment in Dillon was only 2.5 percent but among ex-offenders it's 60 percent, so Eldridge contacted the local Probation and Parole office. If applicants pass his initial interview, he tells them, "I don't care what you've done," and they get a second chance. "Without them I would not have a business," he admits.
Lacey Galloway, 34, was hired at Gracie last July. How does he feel about the job? "James treats me as a friend, not just an employee. I'm glad he gave me the opportunity to show him how hard of a worker I am," he says.