Burned by a Zip Code: Part 2

By Jonathan Bash July 25, 2017

This is part 2 of a 2 part series profiling William, a Rubicon Programs client who rose from a life of crime in Oakland to a new life, escaping the trappings of his zip code. Click here to read part 1.


Crossing the Rubicon

Once released from prison, William enrolled in Rubicon Programs’ Foundations Workshop

“I walked through Rubicon’s front door and sat down with these two balding black men – Reggie and a guy named Ron Thomas. They spoke my language. They could’ve been me in 20 years; they both were incarcerated and turned their lives around.”

For weeks, he sat in class from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., drove to work in Sacramento, labored from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., and then turned around to get to bed back in Richmond by 1 a.m. All the while, he wore an ankle monitor that tracked his every move.

Thanks to the curriculum and ongoing coaching by Rubicon’s dedicated career, finance and wellness coaches, he was able to forge lifelong friendships, find an affordable apartment, start to build his credit and discover that he could build a real career – not just get a job.

Soon, he met with one of Rubicon’s Staff Attorneys, Sarah Williams. He noticed a copy of “Practices and Procedures” on her desk – the lawyer’s bible. This got them talking about his interest in a legal career. 

“Sarah suggested that I go work for the Public Defender’s Office. I never thought that was on the table, but sure enough it was. I got an email from her a few weeks later. A position opened up.”

He then met with Rubicon’s employment coaches. They walked him through his resume, helped him write a cover letter and taught him all the essentials he didn’t even know existed.

On Sarah’s referral, he applied for a position working for the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Proposition 47 Reentry Coordinator, Ellen McDonnell, and supervisor Jonathan Laba. A few days later, he got a call back. He got the job – one with a real career pathway as a legal clerk, paralegal – or something even greater.

“One of the attorneys there, Ali Saidi – a great friend – has got me thinking about maybe running for city council. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but I do know I want to give back to my community.”

The Bigger Picture

According to William, poverty is the end result of many disparate factors. An impoverished community with few resources. A lack of social support. The influence of drugs. And macroeconomic changes out of any one person’s control.

“They took away Oakland’s biggest employer, the military base. That was the beginning of the end of Black advancement,” he says. “You still had good people despite the crack epidemic – but they had jobs with the base. When it left, they lost everything, and everyone who supplied their groceries or worked in nearby businesses lost everything. It rippled throughout the community.”

William asks, “Why did this particular base close?” Poverty doesn’t happen by coincidence. Many times, it is by design. 

“There’s not just one system put in place to keep minorities, and specifically black people, in poverty,” he says. “Unaffordable housing pushes us out of our homes. Police brutality kills hundreds of young black men, and we see no repercussions. Officials pick winners and losers. And society puts over 44,000 barriers on a formerly incarcerated person.”

He says that these societal pressures take away hope. “And without hope, you lose everything.”

Bringing Hope Back

With Rubicon, William now has more hope and resources, and not just hope for himself, but for his community. He hopes that we can repeal mandatory minimum laws, end three strikes, reform the criminal justice system and build more affordable housing. 

He thinks these changes will require new leaders “who actually go into our community, who actually talk to the homeless, and the hopeless, and honestly ask us ‘how can I help?’.”

Will William be one of these new leaders? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, Rubicon Programs will continue to support him and thousands of others just like him.

“When I walk into Rubicon, I get a genuine hug and a high-five. And that’s for everyone who enters these doors,” he says. 

“It’s like being inducted into a second family. But a family that does everything with you… if you’re willing to do the work.”

"If you take away jobs and schools, and you replace them with guns and drugs, it’s a recipe for disaster."

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Rubicon’s Young Professionals Board

By Lisa Dyas July 19, 2017


The Young Professionals Board raises awareness and resources to help meet the needs, address the challenges and uncover the untapped potential of our neighbors living in poverty. Join us to meet other young professionals with a commitment to equity for East Bay communities.  


In its first year, we will come together to introduce Rubicon's mission to a new generation of professionals who will help us achieve our vision of an East Bay without poverty. Together we will: 

Learn about the challenges facing our neighbors living in poverty, and how Rubicon partners with them to find solutions.

YPB members will harness their creativity to increase awareness of Rubicon and develop critical resources to support our mission. 

The YPB will produce a signature event that connects young professionals who share our vision in conjunction with our annual fundraising event, East Bay State of Mind.


Job Description>>



Questions? Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum, Development Manager


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Statement: Rubicon Programs Stands Against ACA Repeal

By Jonathan Bash June 27, 2017

RICHMOND, CALIF. — "No health care bill should be written in darkness. Don't be distracted. Don't get complacent. The U.S. Senate is counting on the American people to lose their focus and let them slip a terribly unpopular piece of legislation past us.

If we don't fight, 22 million people will lose their lifeline and tens of thousands will die.

We in the Bay Area must fight back, we must call our own representatives to tell them to stand strong against this repeal. And we must call, tweet and email every Republican who is on the fence.

Rubicon Programs, and our allies combating poverty throughout the Bay Area, stand strong against this legislation – legislation that will increase profits for big business and roll back the historic health gains for low-income people brought by the Affordable Care Act.

We also stand together to guarantee the right to health care here in California. Until we have a single-payer program, our current system will continue to extend the cycle of poverty and promote human suffering."

Jane Fischberg

CEO and President, Rubicon Programs

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In Furtherance of Justice | Wiping the Slate Clean

By Lisa Dyas June 7, 2017

Rubicon's legal team helps our participants with a wide variety of legal assistance to equip them to remove barriers that may stand in their way of achieving their long-term goals. This question and answer series with Rubicon's staff attorneys explores the many intersections between breaking the cycle of poverty and the law.

This week, In Furtherance of Justice, talks to Rubicon attorney, Sarah Williams, about Clean Slate Day 2017. 

Wiping the Slate Clean

What is Clean Slate Day?

Clean Slate events help people with criminal records access expungements and felony reductions which in turn remove barriers to employment and housing.  Rubicon has been involved in organizing Clean Slate events in Contra Costa County since 2011. What was special about the last two Clean Slate Days, including the most recent one held this past April, was that we were actually able to convene court.  Unlike past events where we've met with people and explained their rights and the process of getting records expunged, we now have an official court proceeding with a judge granting expungements. 

In 2017, we also served more people than ever; 320 people had more than 1,000 cases expunged. To put it in perspective, more cases were cleared in a single day than what is typical for a whole year. To go through the process as an individual, the process can take anywhere from six to nine months. 


What does it mean to have a record expunged? 

Having your record expunged gives you the legal right to say, “No,” when asked if you have a criminal background on a job or housing application. In California, an expungement does not take the conviction off the record, but it really clears the way for people with conviction histories to find employment and housing. 

In California expungement is available to a lot of cases. As long as the sentence for a conviction does not include state prison, it is eligible for expungement. As our state is moving further away from sending people to prison and toward shorter sentences in county jail, more people will be eligible for this life-changing remedy. 


What role do community partnerships play in pulling off an event of this scale?

A lot of credit goes to Judge Diana Becton who was the person who initially approached the Public Defender’s office in 2016 to make our Clean Slate events more than information sessions. She wanted to do something in conjunction with her church at Easter, and actually hold court. These are inspirational events for both the participants and the community.

The District Attorney’s office was also involved in approving cases to be expunged. Rubicon also played a big role in the planning for the event because we actually have a great deal of experience running Clean Slate events. We also worked closely with the county Reentry Coordinator, Bay Area Legal Aid, Safe Return Project, and the Reentry Success Center. The Public Defender’s office was responsible for the lion’s share of the work, and really went into overdrive to approve hundreds of cases to present to the District Attorney.


What do Rubicon attorneys do for Clean Slate Day?

We help with logistics, we get the word out about the event, and this year we helped bring in the Department of Child Support Services as a partner to have somebody to check people's cases and answer questions.  Of course, a lot of our responsibility is just making sure that our Rubicon participants are able to access the services. I think it’s really helpful for our participants to have people actively thinking about legal remedies that will help them find stable employment, and housing. We are also there on the day of the event to support our participants and to be available to provide information and referrals for the many walk-ins who come to the event.


What impact does having their record expunged have on Rubicon participants? 

Having cases expunged opens up employment and housing doors, but it can also make people feel better, freer. It is a really concrete way that they can move away from their past mistakes and finally feel that they have been forgiven. Our participants say all the time that they did their time and want to move on, but in reality that's not what happens.  There are all these collateral consequences to having a conviction; being kept out of employment, being kept out of housing, not being able to go to school. I think, too, that standing in front of the judge, and hearing her say, " Congratulations, good job," as opposed to sentencing you to jail -  that's priceless. It's like official forgiveness.

Events like Clean Slate Day are so important because they help people get a second chance without having to jump through a million hoops. Even if you're trying to do everything right, you just encounter roadblock after roadblock. An event like Clean Slate can allow so many more people to access this remedy that can positively change their lives. Expungement doesn't change the past or lessen the consequences of a crime, it is about making it easier to reintegrate into society.  

One Rubicon participant actually had nine different cases expunged at the event. He had an extensive RAP sheet and had been getting in trouble for over 15 years. But now he is in recovery and is on the right track. He came with a whole cheering section and sat through the entire day, watching and supporting as the people around him have their convictions expunged and their felonies reduced. With these expungements he is well on his way to moving beyond his past mistakes and being able to work full-time to support his family.

Could changes at the federal level impact future Clean Slate Days?

Most criminal law is state law, and while there are federal prisons and crimes, it's not that common. California has really been moving in the right direction toward criminal justice reform with legislation like AB 109 and Prop 47, which took a bunch of low level felonies and reclassified them as misdemeanor, Prop 57 that helps people get out of prison faster. I actually think that as we see more regressive action at the federal level, we will see a bigger push toward reform and social justice at the state level. 

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In Furtherance of Justice | Small Document, Big Impact

By Lisa Dyas March 7, 2017

Rubicon's legal team helps our participants with a wide variety of legal assistance to equip them to remove barriers that may stand in their way of achieving their long-term goals. This question and answer series with Rubicon's staff attorneys explores the many intersections between breaking the cycle of poverty and the law.

This week, In Furtherance of Justice, talks to Rubicon attorney, Pat Kaspar, about the impact that a driver's license makes for someone trying to break the cycle of poverty.  

Small Document, Big Impact

Why are suspended licenses such a pervasive problem for Rubicon participants?

It's pretty simple; almost all of our program participants are low-income, and traffic tickets are expensive. There is a small window of time in which to pay your fine, and if you miss it, the amounts increase quickly. It's much easier to pay a ticket if you don't have to weigh it against food and lodging. 

The system is also confusing and hard to navigate. The notices are confusing to everyone! Many of our participants do not understand what their options are, and if they do, they might not be comfortable asserting themselves. Many of our participants have had uncomfortable experiences with courts for a lot of reasons. 

Ultimately, poverty should not be the reason that people are not able to drive. 

If someone isn’t trying to get a job as a driver, is a suspended license really that big of a deal?

Many non-driving jobs require a driver's license. Many employers, for example, don't want you taking the bus if you need to get to a meeting. It is also much easier to look for work when you can drive. Many low-income communities are undeserved by public transportation, and not driving can significantly limit a job search. The activities of daily living like shopping, medical appointments, and childcare are also much easier when you have a license. 

What role does Rubicon’s legal team play in helping participants reinstate their licenses?

The first thing that we do is talk to the participant to find out how they lost their license in the first place. It’s helpful to understand the whole story to help figure out the best solution. The delight of this job is building trust with your client; this can take time and patience.  

Depending on the circumstances, we might be able to utilize the Amnesty Program, have a large portion of the fine waived, or set up a payment plan to help them get their license back quickly. Unfortunately, the Amnesty program is ending March 31, 2017.   Contra Costa and Alameda County also have Homeless Courts that help people get certain fees and fines forgiven. The Court experience can also be incredibly positive and affirming. As part of the process, we work closely with other Rubicon staff, advocate for reasonable payment schedules, and represent our clients in court.  Additionally, people can lose their licenses, for example, because of child support obligations or the need to complete a court-ordered DUI class.  We can help identify these situations and offer suggestions on resolving the matter.

How is the legal community working to change how fees, fines, and suspensions are handled?

It's an issue that the whole community is aware of, and we know that the problem of unpaid tickets leading to suspensions is a particular hardship for low income people. Our legal team has participated in the Contra Costa Traffic Work Group. Part of our work advocated for making traffic court more accessible. We provided feedback to the courts on traffic violation forms, for example, to make them easier to understand for our clients. Rubicon is also lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Solano County to change the practice of using license suspension as a way of collecting unpaid fines. 

The work of changing the way U.S. courts approach this issue is happening across the country. There is a solid connection being made between how fees are assessed and their impact on low-income communities. A great resource to understand the problem is Not Just a Ferguson Problem, a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the SF Bay Area that illustrates the issues and provides potential solutions. 

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