Jail minister paves road to redemption with coffee beans

He's an unlikely spokesmodel for a business trying to make its way in the Northwest's highbrow coffee world.

Heavily tattooed with a shaved head, Zach Joy has spent 20 years of his life in and out of prison for assault, robbery and manufacturing meth, to name a few. The teardrop tattoo beneath his left eye betrays an even darker past.

"I've played a role in someone's death," he said.

"Through drugs," he quietly added, when pressed. "I felt like, if I can't be good, I'll be really good at being bad."

Zach was among the millions living in America's underground. Addicted and broken, he had no future, no hope, no way out, let alone any prospect of making an honest living.

"People don't want to hire you if you're a felon," he says. "They don't want to hire you when you come in with your head hung down like there's no hope."

Then Zach met Chris Hoke, a pastor at the Skagit County jail. The minister and the meth head bonded like brothers. They realized there has to be an alternative for guys like Zach, a way to stop the downward spiral of violence, drugs and jail.

They created a new underground: Underground Coffee.

Part of the pastor's outreach ministry, Tierra Nueva, people come in search of support to stay off the streets. Hoke likens them to coffee beans: hard and bitter at the beginning, but when exposed to heat, they completely transform.

"The heat for us is love," he said. "Divine love. As that moves through us like the beans in the drum, our hearts begin to break and double in size and our true complexity and character can start to emerge."

A small handful of people are put to work making coffee that's sold to support the cause. Convicts helping convicts to change their lives. "Self-fulfilling prophets" of sorts, with their own special sets of skills.

"Men who have packaged drugs and sold them and moved them, these are instinctual skills for moving a healthier product like coffee," said Hoke.

Guys like Zach, who has discovered he's far happier roasting beans than when he was cooking meth. Eleven years sober now, he says he had to go to prison to get free and go underground to see the light.

"It changed me," he said. "It gave me hope and I didn't think there was any hope."

You can buy Underground Coffee on line at www.undergroundcoffeeproject.com or at Cafe Aroma in Shoreline.

Hoke who wrote his newly released book, "Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws And Across Borders" about his early days in the jail ministry, is hoping to expand coffee sales so he can employ more people. For more information about buying or selling Underground Coffee, email him at chris@tierra-nueva.org.


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