Francis Cunanan reads scripture in his room at the Rays of Hope program at Mission Solano. His possessions are modest and the housing is temporary but it is considerably more than what he had the first day he was released from prison. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic)

Solano County

Parolee prepares for graduation, rejoining society

By From page A1 | February 05, 2013

FAIRFIELD — His bedroom is dimly lit with a sheet covering the window.

The door was broken in some kind of incident. A towel now hangs in the circular hole as a makeshift handle.

Francis Cunanan has a small bed where some of his hats of Bay Area sports teams are stacked at the foot. The clothes that don’t fit in the closet he shares with his roommate hang on the wall.

Several religious books are stacked at his bedside, along with gospel music and a DVD of “The Passion of the Christ.” Taped on the side of the dresser are homemade flash cards with various passages from Scripture that he memorizes.

His half of the small bedroom is where Cunanan has called home for the past six months. His possessions slowly have grown as he progressed through the Rays of Hope program. To many it doesn’t look like much, but Cunanan said he’s better off now than he’s been in years.

Six months after he was released from San Quentin State Prison, he is now preparing to exit the program in the coming months. Although he will be on his own, he said the lessons learned and network of those willing to help will guide him.

“I came here by myself. When I leave I will be by myself. But now I have this support system,” Cunanan said. “This is a stepping stone to bigger and better things.”

Cunanan was gradually given more responsibilities as he proved he could handle them. His first tasks were helping hand out food to the homeless two days a week at the center. Next came working in the “shack.” He was in charge of handing out showering supplies and supervising the area where many homeless store their belongings in bins.

He now leads the recovery group meetings. He takes roll for the shelter guests some nights. There are now talks of possibly taking a position with Mission Solano once he graduates.

“If I can be trusted here, I can be trusted in bigger things,” he said. “This is a start. I’m being realistic. This is going to be a process.”

Not that there weren’t a few hiccups along the way. Gene Ahu, program manager, said it took a few times to figure out what job was best suited for Cunanan. He was first tried out as a supervisor for the roving shelter, but said he was switched after having some issues communicating with the guests.

“He didn’t really want to be here at first. His life was a wreck and he wanted to fix it,” Ahu said. “He needed an attitude adjustment. And he got that.”

Cunanan spent some time at the thrift store Mission Solano runs, but Ahu said his interactions with coworkers needed some work. Eventually he settled on driving duties to focus on for a job after the program. The shelter needs drivers for deliveries and transporting people.

One of the milestones for Cunanan was getting his driver’s license back. He recently acquired his class A permit, which will allow him to be able to drive more vehicles.

Staff members now compliment his progress and talk about the work it took to get there. Cliff Parker, his case manager at Mission Solano, said like many in the program, Cunanan was forced to figure out if he really was going to change.

“Everyone comes at different levels. It’s on them if they want to make it,” Parker said. “He’s been an asset here.”

Many point to a broken hand he received in November as a turning point. For Cunanan, it’s a blemish he isn’t proud of.

He said one day he was hoping to watch a football game. A roommate had other ideas. An argument started and Cunanan said he lost his temper. Instead of fighting, he went outside and punched a weight bench.

“I felt like I was about to explode. If I did that, I’m going back to prison. I told myself, ‘I’m losing focus. I’m getting off track,’ ” he said. “Your improprieties resurface. It’s up to you if you want to work on it or not.”

From there he started focusing his spare time on worship. He began to pore through religious literature. Flash cards were created with various passage of Scripture that he repeated until memorized. Over time, he began to lighten up and tried to see the best in life.

“I’m just happy, man,” he said recently. “I used to want nice cars, money and a big house. Now, I want joy, love, peace and my family back.”

One of the driving forces behind Cunanan’s progress has been the hope to be with his parents and siblings. The first stages of that happened New Year’s Eve. His half-sister, who he lived with when coming over from the Philippines, tracked him down through other family members to reconnect.

She drove from Hayward to pick him up and took him back to hang out for the holiday. She then drove him back the next day. Since then, she has visited a couple of times for dinner.

“I hadn’t seen her in about six years. I didn’t know how to react. She’s thankful of what I’m doing and that we can be a family again,” Cunanan said. “I had an overwhelming joy. This is the life I want to live. Family is the most important thing.”

He recently talked to his father over the Internet using Skype, a technology that blew him away.

There is a lot more work to do before things are healed with his mother, Cunanan said. He said trust was broken several times and it will be some time before he is forgiven.

“Once I’m on the right path, that relationship will come,” he said. “When she sees I’m doing good, that wall will come down.”

Cunanan now is getting ready for his graduation. His sister, father and possibly some other family members will be there to see it. The program waits until a certain number of members are ready to graduate, so it will take place sometime in the next two or three months, Ahu said.

If he doesn’t stay on with Mission Solano, Cunanan said he will begin his search for a job. He knows that will be difficult with a record, but hopes people will be able to see what he’s done since then. Rejection isn’t an issue, he said.

“If I had enough heart to go in and pass a bad check, I can go in and have them say no. If 50 people turn me down, I’ll go to 100. Someone has to say yes,” he said. “I’ll work in a refinery. Or as a janitor. I’m not going back.”

Cunanan said although the past six months seem like a whole lifetime, he is hopeful his life will only improve.

“I want to look back in five years and not believe what I’ve accomplished,” he said.

Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.

Danny Bernardini

Danny Bernardini

Danny is a newspaper man born and raised in Vacaville. He attended Chico State University and has written for the Enterprise Record and the Reporter. Covers the City of Fairfield, education and crime. A's, Warriors and Saints fan. Listener of vinyl, frequent visitor to the East Bay. Registered "decline to state" voter. Loves a good steak.

Discussion | 12 comments

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  • Teddy BruiseveltFebruary 05, 2013 - 8:02 am

    I can't understand why this "Filipino immigrant" and convicted felon has not been deported to his country of origin.

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  • Prince JackFebruary 05, 2013 - 10:24 am


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  • Prince JackFebruary 05, 2013 - 10:18 am

    Why is this the second day in a row that the Daily Republic has featured this parolee's story on the front page? I can think of a few things going on in Fairfield at this moment that are a million times more important. I'm all for someone getting their life together as this young man Francis Cunanan supposedly is, it's not an easy thing to do. I just hope this young man realizes how privileged he is to be living in this country. Perhaps now he can stop living like a dung beetle and make something of his life.

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  • Christine in FFFebruary 05, 2013 - 1:54 pm

    If you read the article Jack~ it clearly states that this a 3 part series on this man's story.

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  • MelissaFebruary 05, 2013 - 11:51 am

    Just because he's of Filipino descent, doesn't mean he's an immigrant. He may have been born in the US or a naturalized citizen.

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  • Teddy BruiseveltFebruary 05, 2013 - 12:56 pm

    Melissa, if you read the article you would see that Cunanan was referred to by the author as being a "Filipino immigrant", which is precisely why I used the quotation marks. The concern here is not regarding his race, but rather his status as an immigrant, who by virtue of being a convicted felon, should be returned to his country of origin.

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  • Stop with all the negativityFebruary 05, 2013 - 1:59 pm

    I'm really tired of all the negative comments surrounding the 3 part series. 1st - If he needs to go go his place of origin, maybe we should all leave since this was never really ours in the 1st place. 2nd - This gentleman is trying to improve his life. Kudos to him for realizing that he can and will do his best to improve his life. I'm sure he'll pay it forward. For those of you, who want to put him down, shame on you for judging him when you should probably look at yourself. 3rd - Glad to see the Daily Republic is showing that people in our community can really change and make a difference. There is HOPE.

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  • JoshFebruary 05, 2013 - 2:01 pm

    A felon turning his life around is extraordinary enough for me to consider it news. Read the rest of the headlines from our county... so many murder trials and unsolved crimes. At least a group of citizens are TRYING to stop the problem at the source instead of complaining about the government not stopping all crime/curing evil or whatever the talkers expect. Good to see good people of action get some news.

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  • Prince JackFebruary 05, 2013 - 3:03 pm

    Again, I think it's wonderful that this young man is taking steps to better himself as a human being. Right now is not the time to go patting him on the back though. As a certified drug and alcohol counselor I've worked with several substance abuser. At this juncture the worst thing you can do is pat this kid on the back. The second he rests on his laurels is the second he let's his guard down. That my friends is dangerous for someone new in recovery. Secondly the true test begins when he's away from the live-in program in which he coHabitats. Will he remain clean and sober when he isn't under the watchful of eye a counselor? I sure hope so, but statistics prove differently. His best bet right now is to keep doing the right thing so that he may break his dung beetle status, if you will and continue going to meetings. I wish this young man the best.

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  • IFebruary 05, 2013 - 10:22 pm

    Praise the Lord! <3 :)

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  • Rich GiddensFebruary 05, 2013 - 10:26 pm

    I can't understand why the Daily Republic hasnt published my comments defending this Filipino man who's trying to turn his life around. What's up with that? Doesnt make sense to me! I hope things turn out well and I hope we see an update on this story too! Mission Solano Rocks!

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  • MelissaFebruary 06, 2013 - 5:14 pm

    @Teddy ~ I stand corrected. It does state that he moved here from the Philippines, but the article doesn't state whether he is a citizen or not. I would assume he is in fact a citizen, otherwise, deportation would've been the only action considering his criminal record. I agree wholeheartedly with "Stop with all the negativity". That being said, I applaud Mission Solano for their positive impact on the community at a time when donations are hard to come by. I also pray that Mr. Cunanan is able to successfully turn his life around.

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