Jailhouse Pops: From Prison to Popcorn Empire with Emily O’Brien

Emily O’Brien left for St. Lucia on vacation in late June 2015. She returned to Canada a week later with two kilos of cocaine concealed under her dress.

It would not end well with border services at Pearson International Airport, and Emily would eventually be sentenced to four years in prison.

“Growing up, I never imagined myself there,” she said on the Leading With Nice Interview Series podcast. “Great family, honour-roll student, always volunteering, always had jobs. But I ran into some issues with substances. And then often with issues of substances comes bad relationships. And that relationship ended with me on a trip to St. Lucia where he told me … I had to bring drugs back from St. Lucia to Canada.”

While in prison, Emily started to notice a similarity between everyone’s stories — people wanted to get back on their feet but felt lost and misunderstood. So she decided to do something about it.

The idea for her gourmet popcorn company, Comeback Snacks, was born while she was incarcerated. She now uses her business’s platform to not only shine a light on what happens to people when they go to prison, but also the positive impact they can have on society when they’re out. Comeback Snacks hires people with criminal backgrounds and has partnered with a number of organizations focused on reintegration and prison reform, giving offenders the opportunity and confidence to gain and maintain pro-social employment.

“If you look at so many people on LinkedIn, half of them are lying about what they do,” she said. “So if we can actually encourage people to be honest about what happened in their lives, that’s what you want. You don’t want someone with this flashy resume that looks great, because often they’re the ones that are going to disappoint you the most. What I teach people is to talk about your resume of failure and what you learned from it.”

Emily stopped by the podcast to chat about failure, redemption, the popcorn biz and the power of second chances. Listen to the episode below.