Omaha restaurant shows benefits of hiring formerly incarcerated workforce

Big Mama’s in Omaha is hoping other area businesses follow in its footsteps
Big Mama's in Omaha is highlighting the power of giving people second chances.
Published: Jul. 19, 2023 at 5:28 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Sometimes, a second chance is all it takes.

Patricia Barron -- also known as Big Mama by many -- always believed in the power of second chances. She would hire people right out of jail to work at her restaurant.

Big Mama passed away a few years ago, but her daughter, Gladys Harrison, carries on her legacy.

“It was something my mother was very passionate about,” Harrison said. “There were members of her own family who needed to be given a second chance and people gave them those second chances. It was something my mother wanted to do here at the restaurant, so we’ve been a huge supporter of giving folks second chances and hiring the formerly incarcerated.”

“Through the years, we’ve had employees who were formerly incarcerated that went on to Metropolitan Community College and got their associate’s degree. Some of our employees went on to Bellevue and got bachelor’s degrees and have wonderful careers in the culinary field.”

When Roger Jacobsen and his family had lunch at Big Mama’s, they were unaware of her hiring program, but they are familiar with giving second chances and the power they can have to change lives.

“We didn’t know about that until we came up here, but it’s a great idea,” Jacobsen said. “Our church has people that go into the prison and they think it pays off and I do too.”

Harrison told 6 News that over the restaurant’s 15-plus years, anywhere from a third to half of the 300 employees who have worked at Big Mama’s once sat behind bars.

“You would be surprised by the people that have a record,” Harrison said. “It’s not just the stereotypical person who you’d believe would have a record, there’s lots of people walking around here that you would never think were formerly incarcerated so you know you can’t really judge a book by the cover.”

Harrison says second chances benefit the entire community.

“When you think about giving second chances, it’s not just that one person who you gave a job to, but it’s their children and their children’s children,” Harrison said. “Because when you give a person a second chance it changes not just their trajectory, but the trajectory of their family.”

On July 26, Heartland Workforce Solutions will host a seminar for area companies intended to show local businesses how they can tap into the traditionally unemployed or underemployed workers.

The Nebraska Center for Justice will be presenting results from a recent study on the benefits of hiring people who were incarcerated.

A man is living his dream thanks to Big Mama's helping hand after his incarceration.