In 2013, when I was in the Taft Correctional Facility in Bakersfield, California, I was a part of “Those Outspoken,” a group that went into the community to speak about the power of choices. Our area of expertise, of course, was negative choices. In my 11 years in prison, I went on dozens of speaking engagements to students from elementary-age kids to undergraduates.
I loved being part of the team of inmates who use the power of truth to help others take a different path than we did.
One week we were told we were going to a coffee house in Downtown Bakersfield. “Sweet,” I thought, “I could use a good cup of Joe.” In prison, all we have is really suspect freeze-dried trash. And when I say trash, I mean it. Freeze-dried prison coffee will burn a hole in your stomach, make you wish you didn’t drink coffee, and smells like burnt plastic. It was going to be a treat to get coffee that was the real deal.
When I left the prison that day, I never imagined the impact this place would have on me.
Six of us head to the coffee shop with our counselor and no expectations except we knew that they worked with foster youth. As soon as we got there, the true scope of their project blew me away. That, and how damn good the coffee was.
Covenant Coffee is more than a coffee house: it is a faith-expanding, mind-blowing, sensory-overloading experience.
Covenant Coffee and its parent organization, Covenant Community Services, helps foster kids who are “aging out” of the foster system. Together, they help young adults find work (and hire some of them outright), provide job skills training, locate housing, and build support structures that other kids get from their family. I know how lucky I am to have a family that has helped me after my incarceration. Without them, I doubt I would have made it. Turns out, it’s a similar situation for foster kids. What these young adults and Covenant Coffee Community are doing is nothing short of amazing.
On that visit to Covenant, I learned some staggering statistics: close to 20% of kids that age out of foster care become instantly homeless and only 3% earn a college degree. Seventy percent of women 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: two-thirds of us come back to some form of incarceration within five years of release and another 8% experience housing insecurity or homelessness (combining for a total of over 74%!). And while I deserved the terrible odds that I was looking at, these young adults did not choose to be in foster care. I had earned my hardship with my choices. They were born into theirs.
My head spun when I thought about the odds stacked against these young men and women who I watched roasting coffee, laughing, and making sandwiches. Their efforts and energy made the place one of the coolest coffee shops I had ever been to.
Over a few hours, I was inspired by cool, thriving young adults: people going through life with confidence, learning how to prosper in a community, despite every obstacle they face. This place had a good vibe. I wanted to hang out here. These were my people.
Covenant Community Services is community leadership in action.
The organization turned a ministry into a business that operates on grants and donations as well as 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. What’s more, Covenant sells coffee sourced from farms run by widows and other at-risk women in Africa. I had to 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.
Today, Covenant Coffee has a restaurant, a mobile coffee truck, and online distribution of their wonderful coffee. This is “coffee with a cause” that tastes so good you will be bragging on it to your friends.
Of my four thousand days in prison, this was one of the most inspiring. Period.
I had never seen “faith being worked out” and “good works” quite like that before. As I reflect on the Covenant Coffee mission, story, and journey, I ask my self how can I have a similar kind of impact with my life to help others?
Check out and support Covenant Coffee ~ they even have free shipping! Enjoy some Joe with a jolt of hope, help, and joy.
From northern California with Love,
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