By Emily O’Brien.

This post is about 500 words and can be read in 2-3 minutes.

My name is Emily O’Brien, and this is the first in a few posts that John Howard is going to put on their site over the next while as one story about prison and recovery from doing something criminal.

This post is an introduction to my story and my project.  I am now 30 years old, and I just recently got out of Grand Valley Prison, where I served 10 months of a four year sentence for importing cocaine into Canada.

I knew when I got caught that I was doing something wrong, but I was completely naive to the seriousness of my actions.  My drug and alcohol abuse clouded my judgement and inhibited my ability to make good decisions.  If I had been sober and strong, this would have never happened. This I know.

My project

When I was sentenced to 4 years after taking a guilty plea, I knew that I would use the time I was given as a time to grow, learn, recover and create.  I have always been entrepreneurial.  Before I was incarcerated, I ran a successful social media company out of Toronto, and so I had faith that I would find  inspiration behind bars to build something that would make a difference.

A few months into my time in prison, I noticed that many of the women were making their own unique popcorn recipes, using ingredients that were available in the prison food supply. A lot of people love popcorn, and it is cheap to buy and goes a long way. It’s also so much healthier than baked goods and most of the junk food that was available in the prison canteen.   I thought this was smart and creative, and then I really began to think about the current popcorn market. I couldn’t think of any that had really unique flavours.

At that moment I knew I would start a healthy popcorn business  that would have more modern flavours, while at the same time raising awareness of how women can become trapped in the international drug trade.  I had friends on the outside help me with research to make sure I had a solid business concept, and after seeing good potential, I went full speed ahead and started working on flavour selection and development, even while I was still in prison.  Yes, this is correct, I had recipes sent in from my friends on the outside for inspiration, but also asked other prisoners what their favourite recipes were.

Looking ahead

Once I grow the business, and grow it I will, I hope to be able to employ other people that have difficulty finding work because of their criminal records!   I am now on day parole, living in a halfway house. I still have some restrictions, but having them at this point in my release is crucial to maintaining my focus. The parole officer and case management team at the halfway house supported the idea, and while I was still incarcerated, the warden even let me out for the day to help promote it.

I can’t wait for this next chapter of my life!  I’ll be posting more on this blog soon.

Follow my story at




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