From Prison To Peace: Former OK Prisoner Now Serves On Department Of Corrections Board

One cup at a time, She Brews Coffeehouse is changing lives. The business is an extension of a housing program that helps women who are getting out of prison.  

Wednesday, November 8th 2023, 9:57 pm



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A former prisoner who turned her life around is on a mission to help others learn from her mistakes. Just as she was determined to get off drugs and get her kids back, she is now passionate about changing the justice system. 

One cup at a time, She Brews Coffeehouse is changing lives. The business is an extension of a housing program that helps women who are getting out of prison. 

"Skyler has her children back. She has four. Kiana has her children back. Tish has her children in her life,” Rhonda Bear said at the coffeehouse. 

Bear cares because she knows what it's like to hit bottom. 

"I had bondsmen and cops looking for me everywhere. I was not going to be able to see my children, and I decided I have to change, and I have to change now,” Bear said. 

Bear opened She Brews as a nonprofit in 2012. She has helped hundreds of Oklahoma women turn their lives around. 

“Today, they have their kids back. And today, they have a job. And today, their life is different, and I'm just humbled that God took my mess and made something good out of it,” she said. 

She uses her experiences to relate to prisoners. 

There is hope and humor at the Eddie Warrior women’s prison in Taft. Bear visits every week to volunteer as an assistant chaplain, teacher, and mentor. 

"More importantly, that she deals with transitional homes, and she has some of her own, but also she knows people all over the state of Oklahoma that can help get these ladies where they need to be when they are released,” Eddie Warrior Correctional Center Chaplain Regina Beede said. 

The Eddie Warrior Correctional Center has more than 800 women incarcerated. Many of them know Bear and say she is family who inspires them every day. 

"I learned how to forgive myself for the things that I've done to be here, and I've learned all the tools necessary to be successful when I get out,” Tammy Welch, a woman Bear is helping, said. 

As women are getting ready to be released from prison, Bear is ready to help. 

"I had someone that believed in me, that pushed me to be better, and I want to believe in them and push them to be better,” Bear said. 

There's someone in particular Bear is working to get out of prison. 

“I used to run from her. Because you were always preaching. You're supposed to do this; you've got to do it that way,” Lonnetta Hawkins said. 

"I did not want her getting in trouble,” Bear said. 

Bear and Hawkins were bunkmates more than 20 years ago. 

"To see her today, and she's on the other side, and to see what a blessing she's been to a lot of us in here now, it just makes you view life a little different,” Hawkins said. 

Different from the lives they used to have. Bear had a rough childhood and became addicted to Valium at just 12 years old. She doesn't remember how many times she was arrested. 

"I just didn't want to feel anything,” Bear said. “That's how you can live a life as I lived because it didn't matter."

But her three kids did matter. They were ordered to live with their dad. Bear said bye to them before turning herself in in 2000, mostly for drug-related convictions. 

"This was probably one of the darkest places I've ever been,” she said. “There was a lot of death here. The female death row here." 

News On 6 went back to her cell in Oklahoma City. 

"That's my old room,” Bear said as she pointed. 

The judge gave Bear a choice: Go to prison for 10 years or complete a drug rehab program and get out much earlier. 

"I'm at the bottom,” Bear remembered. “How much further can you go down than this, and what do you do with it?" 

While locked up, she said she learned the power of prayer. 

"Somebody taught me something here at this bed. When you take your shoes off, put them under your bed, and when you have to get down on your knees to get your shoes, you say a prayer," Bear said. 

She prayed for ways to help her kids while in prison. 

"I would wash people's clothes for noodles and stamps so that I could mail noodles out to my kids, and my kids remember that today,” Bear said. 

Bear got out of prison in 2002 after serving 19 months and has been sober since. She fixed her relationship with her kids, remarried, got her bachelor's degree in social work, and now lives in Pryor. 

Governor Kevin Stitt pardoned her in 2019, and then in 2022, he appointed her as the first former prisoner to serve on the Oklahoma Board of Corrections. 

During our visit, she pointed out that she could see the DOC building from her cell when she was serving time. 

"I knew the DOC building was on the other side of that…but I never thought that I would be a part of that building,” she said. 

Bear’s photo is now on the wall at the Department of Corrections headquarters, not far from her old prison cell. Now that she has climbed out, she wants to be a ladder for others. 

"I can't leave them behind because I know how to get out, but sometimes I feel like I don't do enough. I haven't done enough because there's still innocent women in prison,” Bear said.  

After changing countless lives, she wants to change the system. 

"Sometimes our justice system is not exactly just, and that's very hard, but I'm going to keep fighting,” she said. 

No matter where she goes, Bear remembers the place that changed her, and now she has the power to change others. 

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