Tea is at the center of many conversations—and a new business in northeast Denver is using tea to teach.

Kristin Cardenas opened Open Door Tea Shop at 3407 Franklin St. just a handful of weeks ago, and already it is getting attention.

“It’s shining a light on a broken system,” Cardenas said. “People very much could have reacted poorly, but I think it’s a perfect example of people knowing how broken the system is.”

The system Cardenas speaks so passionately about is the criminal justice reform system. The mission of Open Door Tea Shop has multiple layers. One goal is to hire the formerly incarcerated.

“It was risky.” Cardenas said. “It was risky to employ the formerly incarcerated and put them in front of the community where they’re working with them all day, every day, but we’ve just received an overwhelming amount of support from everybody.”

Cardenas’ shop is new, but she has been able to hire one employee, William Gomez. Gomez served seven years in prison for assault, and was released about a year ago. Right now he lives in a halfway house, and is the shop manager at Open Door Tea Shop.

“I want it to not only be successful as a tea shop, but for it to also be a hub or beacon of hope for anybody else out there that’s looking to change their life, and has been asking for help and no one has answers for them,” Gomez said.

Gomez said his prison time is only a small part of his story.

“I started off in the juvenile system--my mom gave me up at a young age,” Gomez said. “I was in the juvenile system most my life.”

It is stories like Gomez’s that fuels Cardenas’ passion. She also said she has spent many of her adult years helping her brothers who have been incarcerated. She said that experience has shown her that the current system is not working.

“Something I feel really passionate about is real criminal justice reform for quality therapy, quality programming,” Cardenas said. “People are constantly slipping through the system. Nonstop. Every day. They’re getting out, and have nowhere to go quality programming, they have nowhere to go quality therapy.

“They’ve done their time in prison—they’ve been punished, but if they can’t get out and successfully reintegrate into society and people really support them –then they’re doomed.”

Cardenas said she hopes her shop gets people talking about criminal justice reform, and about the people who have served their time.

“People do change. People do grow. And they deserve a second chance,” Cardenas said.

Besides employing the formerly incarcerated, one way Cardenas is trying to help the current and former inmate population is by selling their art in her shop. All of the money from the sales of each piece of art, goes to the inmate’s families.