Ron Owens’ mother died when he was going back to the penitentiary for the third time. So the last time he was paroled, on Aug. 8, 1993, he remembers, “the sun was shining, the birds were singing,” but it was the first time he did not have her support. He was 38 years old and didn’t know how to cope without her.
After he was released from San Quentin, “I got off at the BART station and slept under a window at City Hall for four days. I put my stuff under the bushes.”Years later, when he was working for then-Mayor Jerry Brown as a parolee re-entry coordinator, he had an office in City Hall with a window that looked out over that spot.
“I could look out and see the place where I slept,” he said.
Owens’ divorced parents weren’t aware that he was consorting with questionable people when he was a child. At 14, he had started to shoot up with dope. In high school, he was getting in trouble with the police. He was kicked out of all Oakland schools for assault, truancy, carrying weapons and selling a variety of drugs. A similarly chaotic adulthood followed.When he returned to Oakland from San Quentin in 1993, he says, he remembers feeling trapped. He didn’t want to return to his mother’s neighborhood nor his father’s where the “hot spots and crime spots” were with which he was so familiar.
He rode the bus all day almost every day for four days until he remembered an Oakland-based program called Allied Fellowship. Its outreach professionals regularly went to prisons to interview those about to be released and offer them services on the outside. During each of his incarcerations, its caseworkers promised they would have a bed waiting for him when he was released. Just as regularly, Owens would thumb his nose at them.But now he needed such a haven. He made his way to its offices on Aug. 26. But it took him a week to get admitted to their program because, he remembered, “Now they don’t believe me (that he was ready to reform), and I have to impress them.
“They tested him for drugs, and he passed as clean.”I went in there with my mind made up and decided to try and live straight for at least six months,” he said. He has been living straight for more than 15 years now.Under Mayor Dellums, Owens was put on the board for Measure Y, the city program aimed at reducing violence.
Today, Owens is coordinator for Second Chance Community Counseling Services, which offers parolees support for achieving sobriety, education, individual counseling and work experience in a supervised “clean and sober house”, Owens said.It has centers in Newark, San Leandro and Hayward. Second Chance is part of the Bay Area ServicesNetwork, part of statewide networks supported by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.Now he is one of those service providers that convenes recent parolees in the weekly Parole and Community Team meetings, which each recent parolee must attend.
Nattily dressed and strutting with confidence, Owens takes the stage before these 50-some parolees and says, “Welcome home.”He proceeds to deliver with revivalist fervor a litany of encouragements to his vulnerable audience, starting with a discussion of his own troubled past.”I used to be a hustler, but now I’m hustling legally,” he says with a broad grin.
Contact business writer Francine Brevetti at FBrevetti@bayareanewsgroup.com