FAIRFIELD — Francis Cunanan was sitting in San Quentin State Prison in July 2012, hours from his release.
For the previous two and a half years, he called San Quentin home. Soon he would be out.
Plans had already been made for the $200 in gate money he was about to receive. The 34-year-old was looking to return to Vallejo. To hook back up with his crew. The likely course was to end up back in the lifestyle of methamphetamine use and identity fraud.
Cunanan said he had already checked twice with the four counties where he was previously arrested, making sure there were no days owed or outstanding paperwork. The answers came back that he was clean and ready for release.
That is until Contra Costa County came for him. A warrant relating to a probation violation, a misdemeanor, popped up and he owed them four days.
“It kind of depressed me. After all that time, I’m not done yet,” the Filipino immigrant said. “I filed paperwork with CoCo (Contra Costa) twice. They said I was clear. I got discouraged.”
As he was transferred, he knew the money and transportation offered to those leaving state prison were not given to those in county lockup. He also remembered a place called the Rays of Hope at Mission Solano in Fairfield. A fellow inmate, Sonny, told him about the faith-based men’s program before leaving San Quentin.
So the man who had only been religious when it suited him decided he would give the program a chance. Although he didn’t know how he would get there or what it would lead to, Cunanan said he knew how the story would end if he went to Vallejo.
“You don’t know what the results are going to be (in a program). You don’t know if it’s going to be worth it,” he said. “The stuff I did in the past, I know the results.”
So as he was let out of the West County Detention Center in Richmond that Thursday evening, he made Fairfield his destination.
Wearing his orange jail-issued jumpsuit made of a paper material, Cunanan was handed a bus ticket and Amtrak pass. With no trains in the area, he hopped a bus headed for the Richmond BART station. Once he got there, he realized the only bus transfer station to Fairfield was to the El Cerrito BART Station, several miles away.
With no money, he weighed his options again.
“I didn’t let it affect me. Most people would have said, ‘The hell with this,’ ” he said. “I even thought about just walking from Richmond to Vallejo.”
Instead of calling friends or finding a way to his stomping ground, Cunanan begged the bus driver for a ride to El Cerrito. After hearing his story about just being released with no money, the driver agreed and gave him a lift.
Upon arriving, he again had to swallow his pride and ask for another free ride. He mentioned there was a program waiting for him and his plan to turn things around to the driver. The second driver signaled him to the back of the bus and he set out for Fairfield.
Cunanan asked the driver if he’d heard of the Rays of Hope program. The driver soon realized he was referring to Mission Solano and told him where to find the Rescue Mission and Community Outreach Center on Travis Boulevard. That was met with more confusion, as Cunanan didn’t know the area.
The driver then gave him a transfer ticket that would take him from the Transportation Center on Texas Street to the bus stop on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I just walked the street looking for it,” he said. “All I had was the address: 740 Travis Blvd.”
Finally, around 7 p.m., he found it. Walking up, the normally bustling center had gone dormant, as it does after most nights at 6 p.m. when the services are shifted to roaming shelters around the city. Cunanan was looking for a men’s home, but only saw a group meeting for Bible studies.
He walked around, even asking young children if they knew where the Rays of Hope program was. Eventually he sat in on the Bible study and talked to organizers afterward.
“I saw all women. I said ‘I must have the wrong place,’ ” he said. “Someone told me to come back tomorrow. I told them I would just sleep at the bus stop.”
After hearing that, a woman offered to give Cunanan a ride to the roving shelter, which was at Cordelia Bible Church that night. As he walked in, he zeroed in on a familiar face or someone working there. It was Sonny, the man who recommended Mission Solano.
“I saw him. I was so happy I lifted him off the ground,” he said.
Later that night, Cunanan walked around the grounds of the Cordelia church. He stopped near the open field and looked around. Unsure of where his next steps would take him, Cunanan said he took the time to appreciate where he wasn’t.
“I looked at the field. At the sky. At the moon,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is what freedom is like.’ ”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.