About a dozen employers, including MOD, Uber, FareStart and Tom Douglas Restaurants, joined a job fair this week aimed at matching former prisoners with job opportunities. Also, Washington’s retail sales grew strongly last year, with pot showing a particular surge.

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Sophia Arellano was apprehensive when she got out of prison in 2013. She hadn’t been employed for years, and falling back into a life involving drugs and crime seemed like a distinct possibility.

“What did my future have in store for me? It wasn’t looking very bright,” said Arellano, 37, who served four years in prison as part of an almost 8-year sentence.

But she was fortunate in having an entry-level job lined up right after leaving prison at MOD Pizza, through a family member who had also been hired by the Bellevue-based pizza chain after he had been released from prison.

Now, four years later, Arellano is a recruiting specialist for the fast-growing chain, one of two people coordinating staffing for 175 stores nationwide. The job and the career opportunity she found at MOD Pizza, she said, “absolutely saved my life.”

About a dozen employers, including MOD, Uber, FareStart and Tom Douglas Restaurants, were represented at a job fair Wednesday in Seattle geared toward finding employment for people who were formerly incarcerated.

The job fair was the first one hosted by Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, which encourages businesses to hire people with criminal backgrounds.

The job fair, supported by the city of Seattle and Uber, was part of a two-day event that included a summit Thursday of civic, business and nonprofit leaders to give people what the foundation calls “second-chance employment.”

“We know the job market is tightening. And this is a pipeline that is so often overlooked,” said Genevieve Martin, the foundation’s executive director. “These folks perform as well and often better than their counterparts. They realize they have fewer opportunities and need to make this one stick. They’re hungry to prove themselves and make themselves successful.”

The foundation is an offshoot of Dave’s Killer Bread, the Milwaukie, Ore.-based bread company co-founded by Dave Dahl, who was welcomed back to the family bakery after serving 15 years in prison. One third of the company’s 300 employees has a criminal background.

(Dahl’s past includes years of being in and out of prison on drug, assault and robbery charges, according to The Oregonian. He has retired from Dave’s Killer Bread, and the Dahl family has moved on from the company after it was acquired by Flowers Foods in 2015, according to a spokesperson.)

About a third of the 7,000 to 8,000 inmates released each year in Washington state will return to prison within three years, according to Dan Satterberg, King County Prosecuting Attorney, who spoke at the job fair Wednesday.

When state inmates are now released, they receive $40 cash, a Department of Corrections photo ID and a bus ticket back to the county of conviction.

“We do a poor job of designing re-entry plans for each individual being released, and providing support during the crucial first year,” Satterberg, who co-chairs the state Reentry Council, said in an email later Wednesday.

“There is urgency to reducing recidivism in our state. Helping people re-enter successfully will reduce crime, increase public safety and save taxpayer dollars.”

Levi Freeman, 19, who had served time in juvenile detention, said his record has kept him from being hired for some of the customer-service jobs that he’s applied for.

He’s currently in a program that trains youths in customer service at sports arenas.

He came to the job fair Wednesday seeking “a real opportunity to get a job that can lead me to a career” and help him save enough so he can move out of a youth shelter.

Martin, the foundation director, said she’s hoping the job fair will be the first of many.

“Our hope with this job fair is not only to learn but to have a number of people placed into work,” she said. “We feel this is our duty, our calling in terms of showing other employers how to be ‘second-chance employers.’ ”

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com

Pot a bright spot in retail sales

There may be a retail apocalypse going on, but you wouldn’t know it from Washington state’s retail sales in 2016.

Taxable sales from retailers in this state increased 6 percent to $63.2 billion in 2016, according to the state Department of Revenue.

And the type of store that grew sales the most last year? Drug and health stores — due, undoubtedly, to the growth in retail pot shops.

Drug and health stores overall had $2.63 billion in taxable sales last year, up 17 percent from a year ago. Marijuana sales made up about 27 percent of that. At $697 million, that was up 83 percent since 2015, according to the Revenue Department.

E-commerce and mail order sales, as expected, went up — by almost 12 percent.

That figure is likely an understatement, though, given that it includes only sales subject to state tax, and may not include online sales made by businesses with brick-and-mortar stores.

Department-store sales did not go into free fall, although their total did slip about half a percent.

Among the best-performing retailers were auto, RV, boat and motorcycle dealers; lawn and garden supply stores; and general merchandise stores.

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com