#TogetherWeRise

By Jonathan Bash October 27, 2017


Rubicon Programs transforms East Bay communities by equipping people to break the cycle of poverty. 

We believe that no one service is enough to end intergenerational poverty. People are complicated. They can't be reduced to the least common denominator. 

That's why we provide our participants with three years of coaching and opportunities across four core service areas: income, assets, wellness and connections.
 
First, we help our participants get a job and map a long-term career plan. Then, we show them how to grow their savings, build their credit, set a budget and overcome legal barriers. 
 
But we don't stop with these simple economic solutions. 

Physical and emotional health issues, and limited social networks, also keep people in poverty. That's why we offer tailored wellness services and assistance establishing the community networks necessary to build a career, raise a family, and make positive change.

This holistic, flexible approach allows us to end poverty permanently for more than 1,700 people each year. And we all benefit.

Help us build an East Bay without poverty.

Click here to support others like Mario, William, Angela and John:

"Thanks to Rubicon, I’ve overcome some serious obstacles. All the workshops – and all the coaches – challenged me and helped me grow, allowing me to use my community connections to get a good job." - Mario

“When I walk into Rubicon, I get a genuine hug and a high-five. That’s for everyone who enters these doors. And it was Sarah, their Staff Attorney, who pushed me to apply for a job I thought I could never get.” - William

"To look at where I am now is a delightful feeling. I was running from my credit for so long, but now I just want to see it grow." - Angela

"I had headaches and didn’t know why. Now, thanks to Rubicon, I know it's hypertension and I’m able to make it better. Rubicon connected me with everything I needed." - John

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Trading Yin for Yang: Mario’s Story

By Jonathan Bash August 7, 2017

Mario, a member of Rubicon Programs' July 2016 cohort, always intended to live a good life, but the things he wanted always seemed out of reach. Entering adulthood in a resource-deprived community, Mario felt that the only viable path to success came from “the dark side.”

“I got caught up dealing drugs,” he says.  He was able to make enough to pay the bills and get what he thought he wanted. “I was feeling pretty content. But I began to stagnate, physically, mentally and spiritually. And in the end, I became my own best customer.”

He spent more than a decade in and out of jail, fell behind on his child support and lost touch with his family. When he hit rock bottom, his life until then came into focus, and he thought about all the time he lost not being a productive citizen. That day, he made a decision to learn from his mistakes, grow as a person and embrace the “light side, the good side.”

His neighbor, a former Rubicon client, suggested he look into Rubicon Programs. At first he was skeptical, “what could happen in just a few weeks?” But soon, he crossed the threshold and realized that he could turn his life around, and that Rubicon’s staff would be sticking with him for the foreseeable future.

“All the workshops challenged me and helped me grow. Each day I chipped off a bit of the block of what they offered. I met with all of the coaches. Jessica stayed on me and made sure I followed through. Mr. Alexander, Pat, Reggie, Max, Dalia, Ken, Porschea, Lila, even the office staff, all were instrumental to my success. ”

Now, one year later, Mario works with LiUNA!, the laborers union in San Francisco. The job, which he secured after capitalizing on a few community connections — including one with Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU), a local labor advocacy group — earns $30 an hour.

He now has enough to move closer to his mother and his kids, own a reliable car and save for a rainy day, while also enjoying the good things in life. He has paid off his child support, rebuilt relationships and found stability for the first time in decades. In particular, his strengthened relationship with his mother, Mary, has helped him thrive. "I couldn't have done this all without her support. She believed in me when few people did."

He’s proud of the work that he does, building public parks, sidewalks and hospitals. And he hopes to continue to grow in his career. He plans to learn how to use new types of modern equipment and develop brand new skills in his field. “I want to be a real asset to a company,” he says.

He also wants to give back. He’s joined Rubicon’s Men’s Group, where he meets every week to share his success with new participants. “I’m glad I am able to be an inspiration to others.” He tells everyone he runs into, especially if they’re down on their luck, “go over to Rubicon.”

He says that he keeps coming back because it keeps him focused, and keeps him grounded. “I’ve been able to get everything I need with Rubicon. And if they don’t have it, they know how to help me find it.”

“I’m proud that I am able to be where I am at this stage in my life. I’ve overcome some serious obstacles. It’s been a struggle. But I’ve conquered them all, thanks to Rubicon.”

Learn more about Rubicon Programs' career services and income curriculum here or donate today to support our work.

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Burned by a Zip Code: Part 1

By Jonathan Bash July 25, 2017

Can your zip code determine your destiny?

For William – a product of Oakland – the answer most certainly is yes. But that doesn’t mean change can’t happen.

In the early 1980s, William’s family left Greenville, NC to earn a better living and escape the racial tensions of the South. He, along with his mother and father, settled in Oakland, following his great aunt and uncle’s footsteps. His college-educated father was able to get a job earning a decent living. 

Unfortunately, the new neighborhood introduced a host of unforeseen problems. At the time, race wasn’t one of them. 

A New Normal

“Growing up, I didn’t know what racism was. In Oakland's inner city, kids of all races spoke the same, whether they were Black, White, Mexican or Asian. We all were relatively poor and we all accepted each other,” says William. Eventually, his opinion evolved as he grew older and realized that racism was all around him, especially in law enforcement and the built environment

“My dad was a country boy trying to raise a kid in one of the most notorious cities in the country,” says William.  While his father tried his best, he couldn’t help his son navigate a community reeling from the introduction of crack cocaine, the emergence of HIV/AIDS and institutions that preyed upon people struggling in low-income communities.

These were conditions that opened the doors for opportunistic companies to prey on the desperation and isolation of people in neighborhoods like his. Instead of banks, they had check cashing and payday loan shops that charged 450% APR. Instead of grocery stores, convenience stores offered junk food, malt liquor and flavored tobacco.

Ultimately, adopting a life of crime was viewed to be a perfectly acceptable alternative to this bleak existence.  

According to William, “it’s hard telling a kid to do the right thing when they can go outside and see kids barely even seventeen with rolls of cash, gold chains and a Mercedes-Benz with a steering wheel on the wrong side. You knew girls thought those guys were successful, so you felt you needed to follow their example.” 

Opportunity Lost

At the age of 13, William was discovered by the owner of the local football team who noticed him playing with his friends. He was offered a spot on the team, on sight. This could have been his path out of the neighborhood – he loved sports – but he couldn’t help but fall back into the trap set for him by his zip code.

“I started getting in trouble around that time,” he says. “I was first brought to juvenile hall at 14. I was in custody every year since. Nothing changed. No one like me helped get me back on track.”

Things only went downhill from there. Once a legal adult, he was arrested and sentenced to state prison – twice by the age of 21.

“One night while I was in San Quentin, back in 1999, a man was executed,” says William. “I looked out the window and watched it rain from my cell that day. Three years later, I was fighting my own capital punishment case. That’s when I knew I had to make my own change.”

Over the next four years, William fought for his life, and at last reached a deal: nine more years in prison.

Phoenix Rising

William used the next nine years to take advantage of every available resource that could transform his life. He got his GED and took college courses. He studied law textbooks and enrolled in computer classes. Soon enough, he was tutoring his fellow inmates and teaching his own GED classes. He even earned a paralegal certificate. 

“I had a friend on the outside. I kept telling him, ‘when I get home, I want my own apartment, I want to do my own thing. I am not going to go back to a life of crime. I have to have a purpose other than this.’ So, I made a conscious decision to seek out anyone or anything that could help me out.”

His friend had an idea: connect him with a man named Reggie Boyer, an Impact Coach at Rubicon Programs in Richmond. They clicked. From that day on, William called Reggie all the time. 

“Reggie didn’t think I was helpless. He laughed with me, connected with me and understood what I was going through. He wasn’t in the judgement business, he was in the assistance business.”

Thanks to his faith, good works and Reggie’s encouragement, William gained early release. “I was blessed to get out 13 years, 2 months and 2 days into a 15-year sentence.”

STORY CONTINUED IN PART 2 OF “BURNED BY A ZIP CODE.” 

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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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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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