Missouri business finds success hiring former convicts and drug addicts

The CEO is also a former drug addict and believes healing is a matter of time and opportunity.He was recently named the Missouri small business person of the year.

ST. JAMES, Mo. – In St. James, Missouri, there's one business where employees never knock wood.

Cohen Architectural Woodworking makes quality cabinets for big projects.

"Mostly for healthcare, airports, offices," explained CEO Phillip Cohen.

You don't need woodworking experience to get a job here. In fact, most of the employees have had experiences of a different kind.

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"I was into meth and smoking pot all the time and acid whatever I could do," said Jeff Neal of the prep team.

"I'm a recovering drug addict. An alcoholic," added estimator Scott Stogsdill

In fact, 60 percent of the workers here are former felons or drug addicts. But whatever journey they were on, they were hired by a man who walked the same dark trail.

Cohen is also a former junkie.

"I had a really abusive childhood. I grew up with a lot of violence. I watched my mother attempt suicide four times," he said.

The map of his life included many detours and dead-ends.

His first house, in the mountains of Tennessee, had no running water and a wood stove for heat.

But after years of being lost, he found his way in the most unlikely of places.

"I started woodworking in a neighbors pig pen in 1975. It was the only space, I could find for free at the time," Cohen recalled.

He still keeps his first hand saw in his office.

"And I took the blade and I filed it all down flat and then I took a ruler and a pencil and I cut all new teeth in it," Cohen remembered.

His one-man cabinet making business is now 21,000 square feet with 80 employees. Here, they do plenty of edging, sanding and sharing.

Cohen says he is always available to help those who need to chisel away their past.

"Woodworking itself is therapeutic and then we do a lot praying and we pour into their lives and their families and help them to become better, "says Cohen.

"We all help each other," notes Stogsdill. "We all love each other and we do what we can to bring each other up."

With will and skill, Cohen cabinets have won a number of design awards, and an emotional Cohen was recently named the Missouri Small Business Person of the Year.

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"I never saw it coming," he said through tears.

"You treat somebody right and they are going to work hard for you," added Stogsdill.

One man who used his hands and his heart to help both himself and others carve a new path.

"It brings meaning to the pain that I went through," said Cohen.