Core Kitchen

Ronald Sanchez | Employee at Core Kitchen Oakland, California Ron Sanchez finally has goals: find a steady job, put some money away, get his driver’s license, buy a car, stay positive.

Until recently, Ron didn’t have much structure in his life. No one taught him the importance of setting goals. He was a good athlete and there were coaches who cared, but his mother and father were both drug addicts, so he didn’t have the strongest family foundation. They provided for their children, but there was abuse — both physical and emotional. There were plenty of good times, but communication was always lacking. Early on, he learned how to manipulate his parents and cause friction between them for his own benefit. He acted out, sometimes to impress his friends, sometimes to get his parents’ attention. Eventually, he got in trouble — he started fights, committed petty crimes, started using drugs, stopped caring.

At 18, his world turned upside down. He went to prison for killing two people. He continued using in prison, but by then he had moved on to heroin. He didn’t have much hope. Instinct kicked in and he learned to adapt to prison life in order to survive. His fellow prisoners became his family. His father told him that he didn’t understand the changes in Ron’s behavior, and he worried that Ron was becoming too comfortable with prison life and might not ever get out. He also apologized for not being there when Ron was growing up, for beating up his mother, for not setting a good example. Ron’s father passed away soon after, but his words stuck and made Ron reevaluate. He wanted to change.

Ron recognized that it wasn’t enough to just want it or say it, he had to demonstrate that he was a changed man, that he understood the gravity of what he had done. He needed to become responsible and trustworthy and someone that people could come to for help. Not long after he came to this realization, he started to refer to his victims by their names — Anita and Daniel — to honor their legacy, their families, and to speak for those whose voices he took away.

He couldn’t fix what he had done or bring his victims back, but he could honor them by becoming a good man and by being good to others. He got involved with Criminal and Gangs Anonymous (CGA). He started taking college classes. He stopped using. He took on leadership roles in both Narcotics Anonymous and CGA. He started teaching and preaching. He became the prison chapel cleric. He started to think about getting out, having a life outside of prison.

Ron applied for parole. He was turned down. He kept focusing on getting better, getting out. Finally, after eight attempts, Ron was paroled. As part of his parole, he was set up with The Center for Employment Opportunities in Oakland to help him find a job. They sent Ron for an interview with Core Kitchen, and he clicked with the manager who interviewed him. Ron started work that day and he’s been working at Core Kitchen ever since.

Ron smiles when he talks about Core Kitchen. He describes it as an environment where spirits are high, where there’s a lot of camaraderie and encouragement from management and co-workers. The work is hard, but it keeps him centered. Ron preps food, does dishes, cleans, works the cash register, whatever they need him to do. He’s just happy to be part of the team, a team comprised of ex-offenders who have served their time and now, like Ron, are focused on doing the right thing. It’s hard for ex-offenders to find work once they get out of prison, but Core Kitchen gives people like Ron the opportunity to prove — through their actions and their hard work — that they’re ready to rejoin society.

Other organizations wouldn’t give Core Kitchen a loan, but Opportunity Fund believed in their mission and helped fund them so they could help people like Ron. And it’s not lost on Ron that Opportunity Fund and Core Kitchen are giving him, and others like him, an opportunity to transform their lives.

Ron didn’t think much about the impact of his actions when he first got to prison. He didn’t care. He cares now. He thinks about how everything he does will affect his family, his co-workers, his community. He even considers the impact he has on the environment. Core Kitchen taught him that — about sustainable farming and healthy eating. He’s grateful for organizations like Opportunity Fund that give people like him opportunities to work, to change, to grow.

Ron credits Opportunity Fund with helping him to continue the transformation he started in prison. He hasn’t forgotten his past, and he continues to honor Anita and Daniel. He thinks about the future now. He didn’t before. He’s very clear about what he doesn’t want to do with his life — he doesn’t want to create any more victims, himself included. But he’s still figuring out what he wants to do long term. He rattles off a few more changes he would like to make — get married, buy a home, help his family, and just live the best life he can. It’s clear he’s a changed man and Opportunity Fund is proud to have invested in his transformation.

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