Making Good Season 6 Episode 4 Recap: Laughing Bear Bakery


Always up for a service opportunity that satisfies his sweet tooth, Kirby joins Laughing Bear Bakery, where ex-offenders are offered second chances in St. Louis, Missouri. Bringing community members from all walks of life together through delicious baked goods, Laughing Bear Bakery helps the community see the good in one another one pie at a time. 

Before founding the bakery that hires ex-offenders only, Kalen McCallister worked as a prison chaplain in the state, where she experienced firsthand what it’s like inside a prison, and knows the difficulty ex-offenders face finding a job or housing after release. 

Offering on the job training in a commercial kitchen, Kalen gives ex-offenders the chance to share sweets and smiles throughout St. Louis. “It’s that idea that people come out of prison, they can’t get a job, and they pay for their crime for the rest of their life.”

Over the past nine years, over fifty-five ex-offenders have gone through Laughing Bear’s program. Though Missouri’s recidivism rate includes about 65-75% of offenders returning back to prison within the first five years of release, only 5% of Laughing Bear employees return. 

“Because everybody here has a record, they understand the problems they’re facing, they support each other,” she tells Kirby. “I was the first and only Buddhist chaplain in the state of Missouri; being a Buddhist, we believe in no judgment, and that’s helped me see people for what they really are. I would hate to be remembered for the rest of my life for one bad day where I did something stupid, so we never talk about what they did. I have no idea what they did. They come here, they learn how to bake, they’re part of our family, and then they move on.” 

Though Kirby has only ever visited prison, Kalen makes a special exception and gives him a chance to join the team for the week, sending him off to put his baking skills to the test. 

Kirby jumps into learning the art of crafting the perfect pie crust with team member Larry while learning his story. Growing up a momma's boy, Larry spent much of his childhood in the kitchen cooking. As he struggled with his sexuality, he spent much of his life trying to make others happy while miserable.  

“You press the screw up button at a point of time because you’re just not happy. So I made some decisions that landed me in prison,” he tells Kirby. “I did about 20 years, and the whole time I was in there I was thinking what exactly was it in my life that I was afraid of, because I lived in fear. And at some point I came to the conclusion that not only am I capable of loving, but I’m capable of being loved. As simple as that seems, it was a big turning point for me.” 

“There’s a lot about my past that were destructive things, hurtful things,” says Larry. “One of the ways that I deal with that, because I can’t fix it all, is to put out positive things from this day forward. I need to see the change in me that I wish I would’ve been back then.” 

Now, Larry’s been at Laughing Bear for a year, his first job out of prison. He believes divine inspiration led him to Laughing Bear; initially hearing about the program in prison, he was guided towards the program again after sharing his difficulties finding a job in a therapy group. Shortly after, Kalen hired him on the spot. 

“Everybody here has been down a similar path. We just have an understanding of each other, it’s been like a family, it’s been a place of safety. A place of refuge,” shares Larry. “I’m living my dream with good friends, with more support than I could’ve ever had imagined while I was in prison. Because I’m this happy, I don’t have to worry about not going back to prison.”

Assistant Baker Thelonius continues, “We learn from one another and all strive for the same goal: to get on our feet and become something better than an offender.” 

Kirby continues his day with Carolina, who has been baking since she was a little girl. As Carolina learned to bake from her grandmother, she’s thrilled to tell Kirby her daughter just made her first pie, adorned with butterflies, Carolina’s favorite, as they symbolize blossoming into something beautiful. This metaphor relates to Carolina’s own life, as she was in a dark place for a long time before being brought out of it by God, “Being in prison is really hard because it’s so isolated in there. You don’t feel love in the prisons. You don’t feel community. You don’t feel family. You don’t feel anything that you feel here.” 

Carolina gushes about her love of cake decorating to Kirby, referring to each as a work of art and her dedication to making “something out of nothing” that may be meaningful to someone else. 

Even though Kirby’s skill tests went less than perfectly, and because Kalen loves to give people second-chances, she welcomes Kirby to the team. The bakery has a big week ahead of them, with a donation order of 30 pies for a local senior center will keep them busy. 

Kirby catches up with Kalen under St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch to hear more about Kalen’s beginnings with Laughing Bear. When interviewing for her chaplain position, she was asked what she thought the biggest difference was between those inside and outside of prison; she answered the difference was those in prison had no feelings or regard for other people, “but then when I got in prison, these people were not like that,” she tells him. “I found them to be really decent people.”

“A lot of people are just willing to throw these people away. They did something bad that they don’t approve of. But if you don’t just stop and see what value these people have, you’re the loser. These people are fantastic. They are a gift to society,” stresses Kalen. “When you’re in prison you’re constantly being told you’re nothing. You’re worthless. And so to come out and get into an environment where people are appreciating what you do.” 

Kalen cites her Buddhist faith as a pillar to Laughing Bear, ““In Buddhism, you look at a person, you accept ‘em for what they are, and you’re trying to find the best of everybody. In doing that, I think everybody sees that they’re not alone. That we’re all part of each other. You’re made up of everybody who you’ve ever had contact with.”

After the pies are put in the oven and baked to perfection, it’s all hands on deck to get the order done and pies loaded up for delivery. During a beautiful, cold day in Missouri, the Laughing Bear crew brings their batch of pies to the senior center. 

With lots of love and hard work put into the pies, many recipients go back for seconds or thirds, with some citing the pie as the best they’ve ever had. 

Thelonius recalls a saying from his grandmother while taking in the special moment, “How do you show your love towards others? You feed ‘em. You watch ‘em sit back, smile, and enjoy what you give’ em. God blesses you so you just pass your blessings on.” 

Carolina reflects on the best part of working at Laughing Bear, seeing her pies bring joy to the community, “I like to see people enjoy what I make. Just to come in and be able to just enjoy a moment with them, and share the love and the sugar with them is just a really neat experience.” 

Kirby’s song “Not Alone” strikes a chord with the Laughing Bear team, emphasizing the bakery is more than making good cakes and pies- it’s about the connections it builds within the community.  

“You know, baking’s kind of parallel for life,” says Kalen. “If you measure right and you put it together in a sequence, it all comes out to make something really delicious. People’s lives are like that: this one decision at this moment will determine the next moment of your life, which will determine the next moment. And all you really need to do is pay attention to this moment.” 

Stream the episode now, and stay tuned for more brand new episodes of Making Good, premiering Sundays on BYUtv.