New Hamilton popcorn store to shine light on what happens when people go to prison

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A former prison inmate is expanding her popcorn business with a new store in Hamilton, which she said will shine a light on what happens to people when they go to prison.

Emily O'Brien was sent to the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., early in 2018 after she and her partner were caught bringing drugs into Canada.

The store — which will be located at 302 Main St. W. — will have a staggered opening commencing on June 14, and customers will be required to book one of the available 50-minute time slots.

"It's more about the story and the meaning of a comeback," O'Brien told CBC Hamilton.

"With this store, people can obviously come and buy popcorn but it's actually going to be like a story-telling micro museum.

"It's basically about my journey through the prison system and other people's journey through the prison system, current challenges and also highlighting a number of organizations that we work with, one of them being the Elizabeth Fry Society," O'Brien said.

O'Brien was charged with importing drugs and later handed a four-year prison sentence.

Following her release, she launched a new business — Cons and Kernels. She later changed the name to Comeback Snacks, which which is available in more than 60 retail locations across Ontario.

O'Brien said the new store in Hamilton will feature a listening station to play the songs she and other inmates recorded in prison.

The listening station will also play CBC's Life Jolt podcast, which examines the lives of women navigating Canada's correctional system.

"On the first floor is what I like to call the comeback timeline. So, it's like the beginning of Comeback Snacks. How did it all start, how did I get arrested and then how did we build and grow and continue to help others find work," O'Brien said.

"I'm also going to have like an authentic prison outfit so people can see what we had to wear, and then also some prison journals that I wrote inside prison as well."

O'Brien said she has invited some of her former inmate friends to share their stories.

'It's not just about the popcorn'

The store will offer five flavours of popcorn. They are:

  • Peanut butter and jelly.
  • Lemon meringue caramel.
  • Peanut butter chocolate caramel.
  • Salted chocolate caramel. 
  • Double coated caramel.

"It's not just about the popcorn. It's definitely more about the story and where people could really learn and engage and maybe help change their perspective on people that have been incarcerated and open up their eyes as well," O'Brien said.

"[We're targeting] anyone who supports second chances, or anyone who likes a feelgood story, and anyone who likes to learn."