Hey there construction2style Community,
I have chronicled for you my journey from prison to the streets of San Francisco to the backyard of my parents’ house in Sacramento.
I want to share with you one of my most fond and impressionable moments of my prison experience.
The year was 2013.
I was sentenced and living in Bakersfield, California, at the Taft Correctional Facility. I was a part of a speaking group called, “Those Outspoken,” where we talked about the power of choice-making within the community. And our area of expertise was: negative choices. During my entire 11 years in prison, I probably went out and spoke around 30 times to school students ranging from elementary grades to undergraduate college kids in Kern County.
Later, near Reno, while I was at Herlong Prison and in South Dakota when I was at Yankton with Noah, I was able to go out with their programs! It was a true blessing to be a part of the team of inmates that got to go out and use the power of truth to try and help others not follow our footsteps.
One week we were told we were going to a coffee house. Okay, I thought, sweet. I could use a good cup of joe. In prison, all we have is really suspect freeze-dried trash.
So we head out to the coffee shop. Six of us. With our counselor and really no expectations. All we knew was that there was a coffee house that worked with the foster youth. After I walked in the door, I was blown away by what the true scope of the project was.
And how damn good the coffee was.
The name was Covenant Coffee. And it is more than just a coffee house. It was a faith-expanding, mind-blowing, and aromatic-overloading experience.
And the short version is this: Covenant Coffee is a cool place to drink really good coffee, and the business behind it helps foster kids who are “aging out” of the foster system. The coffee house has a parent organization called Covenant Community Services. Combined, the group helps the young adults find work(or hires them outright), provides job skills training, locates housing, and builds support structures that other kids get from their custodial family members long after their eighteenth birthday. I am still benefiting from the fact that I was born into (by chance) a nuclear family that has stayed intact over four decades and has helped me return from my period of incarceration. I could not imagine not having this family, and contemplating this helped me realize how amazing what these young adults and Covenant Coffee/Community were doing.
On that first trip, I learned some staggering statistics. Close to 20% of kids that age out of foster care become instantly homeless. Only 3% of kids who age out of foster care earn a college degree. 70% of females aging out of the foster care system will become pregnant before they turn 21.
I couldn’t help but compare those statistics to the ones that face inmates leaving prison. And the heartbreaking part was I deserved the statistics I was looking down the barrel of….these young adults did not “choose” to be in the foster care system. I had earned my hardship with my choices. They had not been given that same opportunity.
My head spun at the odds stacked against these young men and women who were roasting coffee, laughing, making sandwiches, and making the place one of the coolest coffee shops I had ever been to.
And then I saw the pictures with David and Derek Carr, as a huge NFL and NCAA football fan I was even more impressed to see the former Bulldog jerseys on the wall. This was a place I could call home for a few hours a day. I knew that without hesitation: these were my people, and this place had a good vibe.
Over the course of a few hours, I got to meet and be inspired by some cool young adults. Inspired young adults. Thriving young adults. Going through life and taking the next steps and learning how to be victorious in a community. They were victorious despite the odds stacked against them.
I got to see what community leadership looks like in action from Covenant Community Services, and how they turned a ministry idea into a business that operated on both grants/donations and its own revenue-driving business. I got to meet some of the social workers that help the participants find housing, manage a savings account, and get ready for #whatsnext in their lives. Talk about #motivation.
I didn’t think when I left the prison that morning to speak, would leave such an impact on me…
Today Covenant Coffee has a restaurant, a mobile coffee truck, and you can buy their wonderful coffee online from where you are reading this blog right now. I would suggest that this “coffee with a cause” that tastes so good you will start bragging on it to your friends.
Before I left that day, they told me that they used coffee sourced from farms ran by at-risk women such as widows in Africa. I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head. Widows in Africa harvesting coffee to be roasted by former foster kids in Bakersfield served to inmates from federal prison, all with a serious dose of hope and eternal optimism. Life is amazing when we choose to live it in amazing ways.
This was one of the most inspiring days of my four thousand days in prison. Period.
I had never seen “faith being worked out” and “good works” quite like that before. It reminded me of Homeboy Industries, or Delancey Street, but with a different community and a different product….but the same spirit.
I ask myself as I reflect on the Covenant Coffee mission, story, and journey: How can I have a similar kind of impact in my life to help others??
I encourage all of you to check them out and support them and enjoy a wonderful cup of coffee, they even have free shipping.
I hope you get your cup of joe today…..
Signing off from northern California,
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