Hours before the sun rises, you will find two women hard at work in the kitchen of a south Tulsa church. On this day, Sugar Rush Bakery is producing seven different recipes of baked goods which is the dream of founder, Angela Landrum-Ellis.
"I could always find success whenever I wanted to bake something in the kitchen," Angela Landrum-Ellis said. "Whatever else was going on in life that was stressing me out or getting me down I could do cookies or a cake. It was a sense of accomplishment for me personally, and I felt that would be a great entry for other women who were maybe down and out."
Landrum-Ellis launched Sugar Rush bakery last August, blending her love of baking with the goal of putting women to work learning baking skills, then selling the sweets to churches and businesses to earn money. She rented a kitchen from Christ Church, hired her first employee and started tracking down customers.
On this particular Sunday, Lorna Hampton works beside Angela mixing up dry ingredients and learning how to bake. The sweet smells of blueberry muffins and banana bread are a dramatic change from the three years she spent in an Oklahoma prison.
"I was in for robbery with a dangerous weapon and my kids were with me, so I had child neglect with that. I had a really bad drug problem, I had a really bad gambling problem," Lorna Hampton told 2 Works for you anchor Karen Larsen. "It was just an awful decision that I made that I have to live with for the rest of my life."
Robbing an east Tulsa sandwich shop was Lorna Hampton's first and only offense. She is the first of her family to ever run into trouble with police. She is quick to say her mother, a nurse, raised her right. She simply chose the wrong path and made terrible choices in her mid-twenties.
"You know, the state of Oklahoma, they don't play on women. You're going [to prison]." Hampton added.
A recent University of Oklahoma study found Oklahoma incarcerates more than twice as many women as the national average. When they leave prison, many cannot find work with a felony on their record.
"I am a single mom have two kids and I just got out last year," Hampton said. "It was difficult. I've been looking for a job for quite some time."
Hampton had a resume she sent out to multiple employers with few callbacks. Without a way to earn a decent wage, many Oklahoma women just released from prison fall right back into their former lives and patterns.
"It's a vicious cycle because they've never had an example of what to do and how to live life right," Angela Landrum-Ellis said.
As a former single mother, she knows that these women travel a road made more difficult by bad decisions.
Since women with prison records have even more obstacles to overcome, Angela wants her bakery to provide a chance to learn new skills, earn money and build a resume. While washing pans and baking may not be someone's dream job, it is honest work for a good wage. She calls it "a starting point."
This starting point is working wonders for Lorna and the two children who grew up without her while she spent three long years in prison. She takes pride in helping to bake such goods as banana bread, cream cheese pound case, double chocolate muffins, sausage rolls and even a gluten-free power snack that will be sold each Sunday in the Church at Battle Creek cafe in Broken Arrow or to fulfill catering orders for corporate customers.
She hopes to help the bakery grow enough to earn a promotion to manager one day and help lead the way for other women struggling to overcome their past. For now, working part-time while her young son and daughter are asleep, with their grandmother watching over them, gives her a chance to develop a new career.
"These are the perfect time of hours to coincide with me being back to being incorporated with my kids' life," Lorna Hampton said, smiling. "It is a godsend, it really is."
Lorna is determined not to let past mistakes stop her, nor a felony conviction define her. With her faith, her children and her mother by her side, she will tell you she is finally happy. With Angela's encouragement, and success happening "one day at a time," Lorna Hampton looks forward to a sweet future at Sugar Rush bakery.
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