Road to Redemption
Original Pilot House Coffees, Monroe
The Rousey’s are known for many things throughout the City of Monroe. Jeff and Heather are active members of their church and their community. They are frequently found at events raising money for the Lions Club and other causes. They can also be found at the Monroe Correctional Complex counseling prisoners on reentry and how to prepare themselves for release. What they are most known for though, is their coffee.
Jeff is a coffee roaster extraordinaire, a man who has spent almost eight years mastering beans from over ten countries (three of which he spent without touching a bean, but we will get to that later). He is a man that has created blends for the mayor and businesses looking for the opportunity to sell their very own branded coffee, coffee that can be enjoyed black without the need for cream or sugar by true coffee enthusiasts. More importantly he is a man on a mission, a road, one that he hopes will lead him to redemption.
Why would a man who has done so much for his community, as a business owner, and an individual need redemption? The answer to that question is one that Jeff has only shared with those he does business with. What changed? Well, he found himself faced with me, someone who not only wanted to do business with him (yes, Live the SnoCo Life will be having its very own blend), but whose job it is to share the businesses of this county and the stories behind them.
Before we get to that though, I would like you to reflect on your own. All of us have a past, one that most likely includes us doing something we are not proud of or having something done to us or someone we love by another. Now I would like you to think about how hard it is, how much courage it takes, to share those things with others. We are all travelling on a road, whether it is one of redemption or one of recovery, and more often than not forgiveness lies at the end of that road.
Keep those thoughts in mind and, at the end of Jeff’s story, I hope that you are able to recognize all that he has gone through and accomplished because of it. I hope that you will find forgiveness and that Jeff will find the end of his road to redemption. In my eyes, as well as the eyes of his late parents I am sure, he already has. He has done what many of us, myself included, still struggle to do, he has come out on the other side.
This story begins when Jeff was a mere twenty-two years old and just over thirty years ago. It was a point in his life when drugs had taken a foothold . . .
“I got involved with meth when I was young. I had never done drugs before and it stole my heart, and my moral compass. It took everything that was good about me and turned it bad. I didn’t have any conscious at all. I would never have used that drug if I would have known the hurt I would cause because of it.”
Jeff spent twenty-seven years in prison as a result of the actions he took while under the influence of drugs, for his participation in the taking of the life of another. During that time he lost first his father in 1998 and then his mother in 2008, events that would be devastating for anyone, let alone someone living in the environment that Jeff was . . .
“When I say there is no love in there, I mean that. There is no emotion, no love, no beautiful people, there is no scents, there is no taste, everything is bland. So, when I say there is pain and loneliness, if you put that on steroids, you understand what I’m talking about.”
His parents were to be his support system when he was released from prison and, twenty-two years into his sentence, he suddenly found himself without them. Jeff did not allow what spirit he had left to be broken however. Instead he focused his energy on positive things, on new opportunities that would sustain him upon his release. He began the process of redeeming himself.
His first step was to allow himself the love that prison seemed so insistent on denying him. That love came from none other than Heather ,whom he had known since they were both children. She had worked for his mom and was often the voice on the other end when he would call home. She was a pen pal and would send him bible studies and words of support.
In the years leading up to his mothers passing, Heather had begun to come along for visits, and that changed everything . . .
“We went from being pen pals and friends to where she grew up and was cute and she smelled good.”
It was not meant to be just yet though. Once their feelings for each other changed, Jeff told Heather to leave and not come back, to go live her life and be happy. Try as she might though, Heather just couldn’t manage to find happiness without Jeff in her life.
So, in 2008, she did what any good woman does, she put her foot down . . .
“Five years before I got out she wrote me a letter and she said , I don’t know what is going on with you, but I feel like I’m supposed to write this letter. I don’t know where you are at or what you are doing … I got the letter and I just flipped out, I was so happy. She came up to visit me, she said I’m not going anywhere, I came to see you and this is what I want.”
Jeff finally asked her to stay, and she did. It is a good thing she did too, because he was about to take his next step.
He once again had something to look forward to and he wanted to do things right, he wanted a way to support himself and Heather. If you know Jeff at all, then you know he is a go big or go home kind of guy, and go big he did. He began researching business opportunities and stumbled upon coffee, which offered not only a financial future, but the warmth, smell, and taste missing from his life.
“I did a lot of reading and a lot of research. I built my business on paper eight or ten different ways and literally learned from my mistakes from within a cell without ever initiating anything. I pretty much built the business, the beginnings of it, from the inside and it all started from a $2,500 inheritance from my Grandpa Rousey.”
Jeff launched his coffee business in 2010, three years before he was released (see, I told you we would get to it later). How do you roast and sell coffee from the confines of a cell? With help, that’s how. Jeff’s little brother helped build his website. He had a friend roast the coffee for him using his specifications and another who shipped orders for him.
He did all of it, roasted amazing coffee, without ever having the ability to touch, smell, or taste it. So when I say he is a master of beans, I mean it. Fortunately for him, he did not have to wait the whole three years to taste it. In exchange for donating fifty pounds of coffee for a Christmas party for inmates and their families, he finally got to taste his coffee for the first time.
Jeff still had a long road ahead of him though. He spent years and years going before the parole board, just to be told no over and over again.
“There was a point after my mom passed that I really didn’t think I was going to get out. To stay strong in my convictions, I had to stay busy in my mind, I had to stay busy with my business.”
The constant rejection kept Jeff from telling the parole board about his business. As much as it showed that he had changed, that he would be a productive member of society, it was just too important to him. He didn’t want them to hear his plans and say no, or risk loosing his convictions, his hope, if they did.
When Jeff was released in 2013, he overcame the hurdles of reentry, having to get a job, learning to use a cell phone, to pump gas, and live in a world that had changed a lot in twenty-seven years. He did it, and worked his way up though, saving every dollar he could. When it came to what to do with those dollars, Jeff did what any smart man would do, he listed to Heather . . .
“Heather said I’ve never met anybody that can work harder than you, you should just invest in yourself because those companies don’t work hard for you, you will work hard for you. So I took that and I listened to her words.”
In the four years since his release date, Jeff’s investment has more than paid off. He not only gets to do what he loves everyday, he also gets to share it with others. With Heather by his Side, he opened Original Pilot House Coffees on Main Street Together they created a space where people could come together, where there could be love, warmth, color, smell, and taste. Everything he had lived without for twenty-seven years.
More importantly, together they have become a part of their community and have dedicated themselves to giving back, not only to local causes, but others going through reentry. Jeff has become an example, proof that people can change, that people can do or go through bad things and come out on the other side. That they can be redeemed and recover. I for one am honored to know him and enjoy his coffee and, whether Jeff believes it yet or not, I believe he has found redemption.
Find out more, shop Jeff’s amazing coffee, and his whiskey barrel coffee at www.ophc.biz.
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