Often those convicted of a felony might never break away from the cycle of imprisonment.
One ex-con refused to be a part of the cycle, though, and is now helping fellow felons move forward in their lives.
Tony Horner was convicted of a felony in 2007 and at the same time was dealing with alcoholism. Horner said he was denied an entry-level job in 2017 due to his criminal history and felt frustrated because of the experience.
“I felt as though 10 years should be adequate. I have not had any criminal history since then. It was just so jaw-dropping, to me that, I just couldn’t get a basic job,” Horner said.
Horner said after this job search experience, he searched within himself to figure out a plan for his life.
As if figuring out a life plan was not enough of a challenge, Horner began to experience some health issues at the same time.
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“I started to have liver issues from my alcoholism that I dealt with for a long time. So, I looked at holistic ways to help heal my liver,” Horner said.
Along his health journey, Horner attended a vinegar making workshop at City Sprouts in Omaha, where he gained knowledge of fermentation and took off.
“I was making my own kombucha with vinegar cultures and it was delicious. It was great stuff,” Horner said. “I think I have a product here where I could actually make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Horner then investigated the manufacturing practices and studied breweries and other related businesses and processes for around a year. He also worked as a bar manager and got firsthand experience on how a microbrewery functions.
Horner was left out of a job once the pandemic hit, and it was during this time where he threw himself into his passion for kombucha tea, which eventually led to Fermented Felon.
Horner’s Fermented Felon brews kombucha tea right out of Bellevue. Kombucha tea is a mixture of water, sugar, black tea and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).
The solution ferments for seven days, after which fruit and spices are added. Then the mixture is bottled and carbonation builds up, resulting in a bubbly probiotic drink.
Kombucha contains antioxidants, organic acids, phytonutrients and minerals.
“I wanted to make my kombucha specifically for people that needed to regrow their liver, people with arthritis, people with circulatory issues, all that stuff, “ Horner said.
Horner said he has received feedback that has confirmed to him that what he set out to do with Fermented Felon was the right path for him.
“I wanted a company that walked the walk as well as talked the talked and I feel like I’ve done that,” Horner said.
In addition to his work with Fermented Felon, Horner is working with RISE Academy-Nebraska Reentry Program, to help his fellow ex-convicts.
“They have a business academy and they actually offered it to me if I wanted to take it, since I’m a felon as well. So I did and I ended up doing well with it,” Horner said. “Right now, I’m actually mentoring a gentleman that wants to start a chili stand at farmers markets.”
Horner said his life has come full circle now through his work with RISE.
“It’s so fulfilling getting to learn about other people and help them grow,” Horner said.
Horner also works with the Sienna Francis House, which services a portion of the Omaha homeless population, many of whom are ex-convicts.
“They don’t have any place to go and even if they were in a work prison here in Nebraska, they don’t get paid enough for them to get out and to be able to find adequate employment, adequate housing, adequate any of that stuff,” Horner said.
He said this causes a lot of ex-convicts to become homeless.
“Just knowing that hopelessness, coming from being a former addict, I can relate to that hopelessness and feeling alone from other people. I feel like I bring that compassion to the table that I really do feel for them,” Horner said.
Fermented Felon is sold at several grocery stores in the Omaha area, including the Shadow Lake Hy-Vee, 11650 S 73rd St.
For more information on Fermented Felon, visit fermentedfelon.com.