John Krause, founder of Big House Beans and former San Quentin resident, sat down with SQNews to talk about reentry and how he has expanded his coffee shop business into Oakland.
Q: So how long have you been free now?
JK: 11 years
Q: What made you get into the coffee business? Is it because in prison people drink a lot of coffee? I’m on my third cup, ha ha ha!
JK: A mentor of mine introduced me to roasting coffee at his house and once I tasted fresh roasted coffee that was not burnt I became intrigued with how different coffees can taste. There are all types of coffee and they can be very unique. My favorite coffee is a Kenya coffee, which is citrusy and very complex — blending grapefruit, sweet tobacco and a black tea together to make the perfect cup of coffee that changes in flavor as the temperature drops. Even cold, it will taste like juice instead of a nasty bitter water that most people experience with mainstream coffees.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for freedom?
JK: After 17 years of addiction and spending a total of 12 years incarcerated, I knew I did not want to continue that lifestyle. I knew I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself because at the end of the day, it is me versus me in that battle. I cried out to God to change my heart, change my thought processes, and to prepare a way for me in unchartered territory. I made a promise to myself that I would not look back. In recovery you have to be very selfish with your time and your thoughts. If you allow the wrong people to have too much of your time, it can go bad fast. If you go to the wrong area, it can go wrong fast. If you listen to the wrong music and let that influence your thought processes, it can go wrong fast. As you go, you learn to establish boundaries and keep them no matter what.
Q: So how did you navigate your reentry and what did you learn?
JK: When I was released for parole it was a tough start. I knew the odds were against me, big time. I had no living immediate family member for support. I had three kids from different past relationships. But I knew a few key things to drive me forward to my successes.
1) I knew I had to stay completely sober. This included things like abstinence from cigarettes and sex because these things can have a power over you that I was no longer comfortable with and can ultimately distract me from my main goals and priorities. By going to my 12 Step meetings I met a lot of people trying to go in the right direction.
2) I knew I had to keep moving forward at all times or else I’d be in trouble and the past will catch up to you and get in your way from succeeding.
3) I was willing to work anywhere, and once I had a place to sleep at night I applied everywhere within walking distance. It was hard being rejected so many times over and over at the end of the day. Once you realize God has a plan for your life, the no’s are not as harsh because I would just look at it as a way of God saying this is not the door I have for you to walk through at this time.
I’m grateful that KFC and all the other places turned me down because I went on to do bigger and better things.
Q: Now you are the one that does the hiring. Are you helping to employ other formerly incarcerated people?
The one thing that stood out was the stigma that I carried as a returning citizen when I was honest about the gaps in my employment history. This made me feel a certain way and I said to myself, If I’m ever in a situation to hire I will definitely give everyone an honest look and a real opportunity if they are fit for the position available. It feels good knowing I’ve given people opportunities to succeed. However just because someone is given an opportunity doesn’t guarantee success. Getting a job can seem hard, but it is easy compared to showing up every day, making good decisions consistently, learning how to add value and not just think about yourself. A lot of people are excited for the opportunity, and in a few weeks or months or even a year later they tend to forget about how important that opportunity is. If they have unresolved conflicts or addictions, etc., they will bring that with them in to the work place.
Q: What do you recommend to those reentering society ?
JK: I recommend people find a mentor or someone further along in life that is successful in their marriages, work, and as a parent. The top two reasons I see men fail is due to women and thinking they don’t have a dependency on drugs and alcohol. It slowly creeps in and takes over, and then they fail.
Q: How has the COVID pandemic affected your business?
JK: Over all, the impact on sales and the uncertainty of the economy has been extremely stressful to navigate. The political influence and manipulation from the government and mainstream media has caused a great divide in our society. It has put high levels of pressures and stress on our staff and that has caused a lot of added stress as a business owner.
Q: What do you say to people who don’t think formerly incarcerated people deserve a second chance? Do you still feel like you are being judged for your past?
JK: We are all sinners and guilty of imperfection. I’m weary of people who think they’re better than others or not willing to extend help to people who are sincerely in need. I have been out for almost 12 years, which is a miracle in itself. I don’t really put myself in situations for people to judge me and I generally tell my story with a sense of conviction and hope for others to be encouraged by, where anything is possible if you have the discipline to say no to instant gratification. There will always be people who judge you whether you’ve been to prison or not.
Q: Any future plans or goals for the business?
JK: Pre-COVID we were growing very ambitiously. Now with so many changes in the economy, including inflation, I am reconsidering how to move forward with the company. We will continue to make what we have better until the day comes to continue growing. We currently have three cafs running and a roastery, which caters to our wholesale customers and our online business. I’m continuing to evaluate what the next best move for us is.
Q: Any final words for our readers?
JK: Stay encouraged! Anything is truly possible if you set out and stay focused and disciplined. While incarcerated, we learn to make the best of difficult situations. This has proven to be an asset for me. Keep learning by reading about specific interests and reaching out to people that have been successful. There is no real easy way or a magic answer that can solve your problems. What solves problems is consistent hard work.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes will happen, nothing will be perfect. It’s learning from those mistakes and not making the same mistakes over and over. Learn how to change course as you go. You might find out you don’t like what you’re doing as much as you thought you would. It’s OK keep moving forward toward something better and don’t look back!