ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As the crowd gathers for lunch at Bean's Cafe, kitchen supervisor Aaron Dollison is getting ready to serve up turkey with all the fixins. In the dining room, Mickey Richardson is helping to run the show as a monitor - part counselor and part traffic cop.
Both men are trusted employees, but both also have troubled pasts. Before they came to Bean's Cafe, they were behind bars.
Dollison spent 11.5 years in several federal prisons. "I was in for drugs. I sold drugs [and] used drugs. I got a 21 year sentence, was a model inmate and got a lot of time knocked off," he said.
Richardson served 13 years in state prison. "It was for criminally negligent homicide, and it had to do a lot with drugs as well," he said.
Bean's Cafe gave both men a chance, after their release from prison, and hired them.
In 3.5 years, Dollison worked his way up from being a cook to being in charge of a kitchen staff that serves 900 meals per day. "This job is more important to me, because I can give back," he said. "I did wrong for so many years that knowing now that I can work hard for what I want and to have the support that I have here - it means everything to me."
When Richardson came to Bean's a year ago, after his release from prison, Dollison became his mentor. "It's good to have someone who's been down that road, because they understand what you're going through," said Richardson. "If you have ups or downs or problems, you can actually go talk to him, and he understands, because he's been through that road."
In the eyes of the management at Bean's Cafe, these former prison inmates have proven themselves. Lisa Sauder, the executive director, said "One of my favorite memories is the day Mickey got his first paycheck. He cried, because it was the first time, in so many years, that he had earned an actual paycheck."
Bean's Cafe managers recently wrote to the judges, regarding the men's two cases, and they asked that Dollison and Richardson be released early from parole. And based on their track records, the judges agreed.
Dollison isn't forgetting that there are people who are where he was not too long ago - still behind bars and still looking for hope. He visits prisons to give talks about his journey and to encourage inmates. "That's the biggest thing for me. You know, if I can save one person - that's what's up," he said with a laugh.
Richardson has a similar message for former inmates. "Don't believe anybody who says, 'You can"t do it.' And don't allow your past to dictate your future," he said.