Monday, July 09, 2007


EWU helps man turn life around

If you missed it, here's a great article in Sunday's Spokesman about a man who turned from a life of crime on the streets to the classroom to get his degree at Eastern. Now, he's hoping to work on his masters.
When you talk about the opportunities Eastern offers, this is a great example.
start something big.

A past of crime, but a future of hope

Kevin Graman Staff writerJuly 8, 2007
Spokane landlord Teresa Simon was conducting business at the county courthouse recently when a friend who was one of her tenants brought her the legal paperwork she had forgotten at home.
After the tall, middle-age but still handsome black man handed her the papers and walked away, Simon recalled, a prosecuting attorney with whom she had been engaged in conversation asked her whether she knew who that was, suggesting the man was not worthy of her acquaintance.
"You have no idea what a badass he is," Simon recalled the attorney telling her.
"Well," she responded, "actually I do."
Simon said the Richard Gates to whom she had entrusted the keys to her home was a different man than the notorious pimp, petty thief and drug dealer the attorney had remembered prosecuting years earlier.
"He has made some huge lifestyle changes, and he is busy trying to get others to turn their lives around, too," Simon said.
It has been seven years since Gates was last in the custody of the Department of Corrections. In that time, he has made believers of those who know him best.
Last month, Gates, 62, graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He is now attending summer school and hopes to be accepted into the EWU master's degree program in social work. Along the way, he has helped others – including some he met on the streets – return to church and school.
"There came a time the prodigal son was down so far in the valley of hopelessness that he was going to engage in a swine's meal," said the Rev. Happy Watkins, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. "That's what came to Richard. He said goodbye to the hogs, goodbye to alcohol, drugs and the fast way of life."
Gates was born in Covington, Ga., in 1945 and was raised by his grandfather in the nearby town of Conyers. In 1965, he joined the Air Force and was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base. In Spokane – a community he described as reluctant to embrace integration – and lacking "the guiding hand of his grandfather," Gates said, he quickly came to the attention of police.
Gates became involved with a 16-year-old white girl. Ten days after his 21st birthday, Gates was charged with "carnal knowledge," a felony for which he was convicted, imprisoned and kicked out of the Air Force.
Eight months later, Gates emerged from Shelton Corrections Center an embittered young African American in a racially charged time.
"I was told if I had been white, I wouldn't have done time," Gates said.
So began Gates' three-decade-long criminal history and his numerous convictions for felonies, including pimping and dealing drugs, for which he served a total of nearly six years in prison.
But even at his worst, Gates said, he realized the harm he was doing to himself and others. The life he led wore him down physically, psychologically and morally. Once, he entered a home and saw a 12-year-old boy light up a crack pipe.
"If I wasn't one of the people keeping that going on, maybe it wouldn't have reached that child," he said. "There was a time I wished the police would arrest me so I could get off that treadmill."
His road to redemption began at Fourth and Altamont.
It was at that intersection, while he was arguing with a police officer about some perceived injustice, that Watkins appeared with his son Percy, who was then a Spokane police officer. Gates cannot remember the exact day or year, but he clearly recollects the embarrassment and remorse he felt at that moment.
"It was a light shining through me and on me at the same time," Gates said. "A voice said, 'Follow that man to church.' "
Happy Watkins also recalled that moment as a turning point in Gates' life.
"He has been faithful to this church ever since," Watkins said. "There were times he could have gone back to the fast life, but he kept focused, even when times were real difficult."
Percy Watkins said that Gates' new life of humility and poverty is exceptional for a man who once enjoyed ill-gotten gains, including "big cars, fast money, plenty of women, influence and power."
"And he's done it without surrender, without variance and without complaint. That is absolutely significant," said the police officer-turned-minister.
"True worship has to do with modeling our lives in a way that reveals the nature of God," Percy Watkins said. "It's easy to talk about, but it's another thing to live it. Richard lives it."
The Watkinses also point to Gates' desire to help others as evidence of his redemption.
Charlene Ahenakew remembered Gates from his earlier days. But about five years ago, she bumped into him and was surprised by how he had changed.
"He helps me and my son out all the time," said Ahenakew, who is struggling to put her life in order. She said Gates helps her family with transportation in his 1970s Ford pickup and also helped her find financial aid for school.
"Nobody else is there to tell me, 'You can do it, Charlene,' " she said.
Gates also helped Tiki Bacon go back to school, something she didn't think was possible.
"If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be in school," said the mother of four whom Gates helped enroll in community college. "He took me down there and introduced me to counselors. He watched my kids when I took my last test."
Bacon said Gates is an inspiration to her. "All the things he's done and all he's gone through – I don't have anything bad to say about him."
EWU journalism professor Bill Stimson said Gates showed uncommon wisdom through his storytelling ability.
When the class visited the Public Safety Building, a police officer looked at Gates and said, "I think I've seen you," Stimson recalled.
"They went out in the hallway to talk," Stimson said. "He didn't make any big deal out of his 'other education.' "
"He's a classic example of 'it's never too late,' " Stimson said. "He's going to do the world good."
Gates said he is determined to do so.
"There is so much misery in this world," Gates said. "I contributed to that misery by not doing anything about it at a time when I was selfish. Now, I'm trying to do something with my life before I pass to benefit these people who are suffering. That's what keeps me going."

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