Sponsored, in part, by the National Parks Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant
By Lou Fancher
Hear ye, all skeptics and doubters who question the redemptive power of employment: It was a job at San Quentin Prison that pivoted John Krause, a self-neglectful, substance abusing criminal, to life as an Antioch entrepreneur with a mission.
The 33-year-old, married father of three is the owner and operator of Big House Beans, a coffee bean roastery with a business plan for financial gain, but a purpose for changing lives. Specializing in wholesale and retail coffees carefully selected for their exquisite, unique characteristics from Ethiopia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia and Colombia, and roasted last-minute as needed to ensure freshness, the business opened at 1925 Verne Roberts Circle in October.
It would just be another "cuppa joe" outlet, except for the back story.
Krause was 4, riding in El Sobrante on the gas tank at the front of his father's motorcycle, when gravel caused the bike to skid. Krause's father embraced his son to protect him from the fall and died from the injuries he suffered.
"My mom was already out of the picture," Krause said in an interview. "When I was about 7, she came around, she was an addict. My paternal grandmother raised me in Richmond Heights."
Krause, devastated by loss, confused by a life in which his mother and father were "nowhere," found solace in his first drug of choice: food.
"I became immensely overweight. My waist size is smaller now than it was then," he said.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 280 pounds, Krause resembles a basketball player and said working out is just one part of the regimen maintaining his good health.
But between food addiction and his present-day trim profile, Krause gravitated to other broken kids, who introduced him to beer, hard alcohol at age 12, marijuana by age 13, and onward to crystal meth on a camping trip with a teenage friend.
"It seemed like what you do: you advance," he said. "All my feelings and hurt and pain would come flooding out. Meth made me feel like Superman: confident, light on my feet."
The first time he was arrested, it was for speeding, evading arrest, driving under the influence. The drugs in his possession sent him to prison for two years.
After that, it was using drugs while on parole, more high-speed chases and similar violations that had Krause spending his formative years mostly incarcerated.
"It was a viscous cycle," he said, blaming no one as much as himself.
In total, he spent 12 years in prison between ages 14-29 and said one period when he was out on parole for 18 months was a revelation because he had not spent a summer out of jail for 10 years.
Now having shed his parole number and coming off a successful run as owner of a Danville-based environmental solutions company he started, then sold to his business partner, Krause said he decided while in prison he had three choices: give up and continue to be part of the problem, swim upstream, or lay there and be passive.
And it was a job working as a counselor in San Quentin's Substance Abuse Program that woke him up to the faith and determination he says is God within him.
"I'm either the extreme part of the problem, or giving my best to be the solution," Krause said. "I let God speak to me, that's how I changed."
But change did not come without effort and after being released with $5 and a BART ticket in his pocket, he was homeless and fearful.
"I was afraid that I wouldn't find something quick enough and would slip through the cracks for the umpteenth time. The fault isn't the system: I made a series of bad choices," Krause said.
Unable to lie about his lack of an employment history on applications and lacking a college degree, his prospects were dim. Until people at Danville's Community Presbyterian Church (now part of Soma Communities San Ramon Valley) reached out to embrace him like his father had, years ago. Given jobs, encouragement to spread his wings as an entrepreneur, and assistance with formulating business plans, securing investors, purchasing a refurbished $35,000 roaster and other support, Krause committed himself to giving back.
"As we grow, it will always be part of our mission to help men and women who have had challenging upbringings. It would be selfish to not give away what has freely been given to me," he said.
Krause employs ex-offenders and holds fundraisers for rehabilitation efforts and local organizations like Concord-based Restore, which provides support for people in recovery.
"Now I look back and my heart is broken for the immense levels of ignorance and brokenness in people in prison. Most of them have been abused, neglected or abandoned," Krause says. "The trend is to overlook them, to push them away as unredeemable. My goal is to break that stigma."