The Fringe Coffee House, which opened in Hamilton in October, has been two years in the making and stems from nearly two decades of personal experience. Customers can enjoy coffee drinks, teas, smoothies, and light bites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But for owners Patrick and Sarah Davis, the coffee shop is more than just an entrepreneurial endeavor—it’s a way to create change within the employment industry, which has historically discriminated against individuals with criminal records. The Fringe intends to aid in the reentry of ex-felons into society.
Patrick and Sarah each have their own experiences within the criminal justice system. At age 16 Patrick was arrested for aggravated robbery and kidnapping after a drug deal went wrong and was sentenced to juvenile life in prison. He served time at a juvenile prison until he was 21. Sarah was 27 when she was sentenced to six years incarceration after she was the driver in a DUI collision that caused the death of the other driver and critically injured the other passenger. Now, Patrick and Sarah are working to dispel the discrimmination and stereotypes that many ex-cons face through The Fringe.
“We just felt like the right thing for us to do is not just pursue the American Dream, but to take our entire savings and all the profit we made from [renovating] our house and open The Fringe, and invest in people that everybody else runs from and doesn’t want to deal with,” Patrick says.
While in prison, Patrick spent a lot of time writing music and creating art. After he was released, he recorded several hip hop albums and traveled the world performing. At the same time, he visited multiple prisons to share his story in an attempt to instill a sense of hope in the inmates he met. He’s spent the past 15 years working with ex-cons and helping them reenter into stable communities. Now, he is able to personally offer them an opportunity to earn an income while also accessing valuable resources through The Fringe.
“We believe people are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done,” Patrick says. “We only hire people who have been incarcerated, which is the exact opposite of the discrimination they’ve faced everywhere else.”
There are negative stereotypes surrounding formerly incarcerated individuals. With dramatic portrayals of inmates in mainstream media, many individuals have preconceived notions of what it means to be an ex-felon. Patrick argues that these stereotypes make up only a small percentage of those who are or have been incarcerated. “I’m not minimizing that tragedy … when you break the law, there are consequences. But, this idea that somehow these people are more dangerous than somebody else is just not based in fact,” Patrick says.
When someone applies to work at The Fringe, Patrick says he looks for three major things: someone who is teachable, someone who doesn’t blame others for why they went to prison, and someone who is motivated to do the right thing and work on themselves. Other than that, he says, it doesn’t matter how long or for what reason you went to prison.
At The Fringe, individuals have the opportunity to partake in programs that span a variety of industries. In addition to an individualized reentry program based on each person’s specific goals and needs, The Fringe offers programs like G.E.D. tutoring, financial literacy classes, parenting classes, music and art therapy, and college and career prep. It also offers health-based support groups like spiritual guidance, mentorship, and addiction and recovery meetings.
“We’re convinced that when people get out of prison, if they have a job and a sense of purpose, that makes the community safer,” Patrick says. “We as a society are directly responsible for having the highest incarceration rate in the world because people come home and they want to do the right thing but they’re not given an opportunity. This place exists because of that discrimination.”
Ex-felons can also access job training and free removal of tattoos that may be a barrier to employment. All of The Fringe’s programs are volunteer-led by community members who, Patrick says, have been supportive of The Fringe since its conception. Eventually, he hopes The Fringe and its resources will be in every major city.
“Part of the purpose of the building is to get people from all walks of life to come together,” he says. “When a customer comes in and they see that everyone working here has been to prison and they get served one of the best lattes they’ve ever had with a smile and a sense of radical hospitality, they realize that these people are not that different. I think in that exchange, not only are the people that work here humanized, I think the customers are humanized, too.”
The Fringe Coffee House, 918 High St., Hamilton, (513) 889-4500