John Krause's grandmother didn't know what to do anymore. With John's father deceased and his mother a transient, the elderly woman had raised the boy from childhood in her Richmond, California, home. She did the best she could, but John still carried the weight of those early losses—burdens far too heavy for his slender shoulders.
By 12, John had become difficult for her to manage. He drank. He did drugs. He made friends with all the sorts of people she warned him to stay away from.
By 14, he was an addict with an arrest record.
In high school, though he played football for a while, he dropped out and found a new way to dull his inner pain: meth.
"That was a game-changer," he remembers ruefully. "I was still there, but I wasn't really there."
For 15 years, John drifted aimlessly through rehab programs, institutions, group homes, and prisons. He tried to get clean, but he could never seem to pull himself out of the mire of addiction. Then his grandmother died.
John's drug dependence became all-encompassing. Homeless, hopeless, and broke, he had lost custody of his three children. Just a few days shy of Christmas 2009, he led police on a high-speed chase and was arrested.
THE GIFT OF DESPERATION
Stuck in a cell, John ached to be free—not just in body, but in spirit, too. Uppers and downers had always promised relief from sorrow in his soul, but in the end, they left him even more isolated and wounded than before.
In desperation, he pleaded, "God, please change my heart. Show me the way out. Give me self-control."
That simple, broken prayer was the beginning of a new life for John. He sought out the Christian community at San Quentin, where he was doing time, and started to study the Bible via correspondence course.
Angel Tree helped John Krause stay connected with his two sons, pictured, from behind bars.
Through Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree® program, a ministry that helps incarcerated parents strengthen their relationships with their children, he also reached out to his estranged, adolescent daughter and two young sons. Though they were still apart at Christmas, his children received gifts delivered in his name. The gifts were reminders of his love and commitment to them—even from behind prison bars.
"As a father, just a chance to be a presence in their lives [through Angel Tree], it was a blessing," he marvels.
Released in 2011, John found a welcoming church. Eventually, he married, and he and his wife welcomed a baby girl, John’s fourth child, in June 2016. John also set his heart on bringing his other three children home from their scattered living arrangements, a feat he accomplished three years ago. After years of separation and heartache, his family was together at last.
John also picked up a new hobby from a mentor: coffee roasting.
"I was fascinated by the whole concept," Johns recalls.
In addition to the science and art of roasting, John says he fell in "love [with] the community aspect that it offers." In contrast to the drug scene, which separated John from the people he loved, John notes that coffee tends to bring people together to work toward common goals and form relationships.
As John refined his coffee-roasting skills, his newfound passion quickly became a business opportunity. With a carefully crafted business plan and start-up funds from his network, he launched Big House Beans, now a highly rated coffee roastery in Antioch, California.
Today John uses his business as a platform to change perceptions of people with a criminal record, one bag of beans at a time. "Some people are intrigued. Others are just amazed and grateful," he says, describing the reactions of customers who learn his backstory.
In addition to a livelihood and a chance to change minds, coffee roasting has turned about to be a good metaphor for John’s life after prison. "It's hard to learn [coffee roasting]," he says. "There's always room to grow. It's challenging, trial and error, but exciting at the same time. After two years, we are still making adjustments, always trying to do better."
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