There’s a little taste of Honduras in Skagit County, Washington. It’s called the Underground Coffee Project, a business run by a group of former prisoners who roast and sell an artisan blend of Honduran coffee beans.
It began as the vision of Bob Ekblad, who led in-prison Bible studies and built friendships with the men behind bars.
The seed for that vision was first planted in the highlands of Honduras, decades before the coffee project first sprouted. Bob and his wife Gracie were fresh out of college. They organized a soil conservation movement, helping villagers rediscover God as they worked to rejuvenate His earth. They founded Tierra Nueva (“New Earth”) to continue teaching sustainable farming, serving the marginalized, and helping people discover the Good News. Later, they extended that mission to Washington state.
There, in a 100-year-old bank building, Bob, Gracie, and a small team initiated the Underground Coffee Project. They hired former prisoners, teaching them marketable skills that would prove invaluable as they worked to assimilate back into society.
The challenges former prisoners face when entering the workforce are numerous, and pose a grueling challenge to anyone wanting to become a productive citizen:
- As many as 60 percent of former prisoners are unemployed a year or more after their release.
- Various legal and social barriers often hinder people with a criminal record from securing jobs.
- Unemployment can exacerbate the sense of confinement and disconnection that men and women have felt behind bars.
The Underground Coffee Project seeks to bring to new life to former prisoners as they work in community. The project’s impact would expand beyond borders, funding the agrarian economy in Honduras while helping former prisoners get back on their feet in the U.S.
Zach Joy is an example of such a transformation. Once an addict who served prison time because of an addiction to hard drugs, Zach has become an artisan coffee roaster, changed by the hand of God and the Christian community that has provided him with both a job and a purpose.
“These cold, hard, ugly beans come into the roaster; the heat … changes them, and changes their character, changes their appearance, changes their aroma and their flavor,” Zach explained to CBN News.
The change is not limited to coffee beans. As Zach has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, his character now reflects that of his Savior, and he emits the aroma of Christ to those he seeks to serve.
Chris Hoke has seen transformations like Zach’s first-hand. According to his story in Seattle Pacific University’s magazine, Response, the roasting process signifies more than a good cup of joe. “Like our hearts, the beans do not transform in isolation, but rather as they tumble and mix with others, in environments of intense heat. For us, that fire is God’s love,” writes Chris, who led Bible studies with Bob before the project began.
The people at the Underground Coffee Project understand what it means to work and grow in unity. Employment for former prisoners revives that sense of connection and overall well-being, benefiting the individual as well as the community.
Whoever you are, whatever your passion—you can help make this experience a reality. Training and resources for volunteers are available through Prison Fellowship. To find out how you can get started, click here.