John Jeffrey Frates carried a frayed red Bible as he walked last Wednesday toward the entrance of the Sonoma County Main Jail, a trip he takes every week.
His visits to the facility are part of his work with the Redwood Gospel Mission’s jail ministries program, which connects volunteers with inmates for one-on-one meetings to study the Bible, talk about their lives or just to pray.
He credits studying the Bible and discovering God as the catalyst for turning his life around more than a decade ago, a change that happened while serving a prison sentence stemming from a felony stalking case that involved a woman he had dated.
He was addicted to drugs and alcohol at the time of his 2001 arrest and had reached a breaking point, he said.
“I was hopeless,” Frates said. “I said, ‘If I keep doing the same thing, I’ll end up with the same results, so let’s try something new.’ ”
Frates, a 48-year-old Santa Rosa resident, was selected last month as one of 143 people pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown, a rare act of forgiveness granted to former inmates who show remarkably good behavior since their release from jail. The pardon, signed by the governor on Christmas Eve, noted Frates’ decadelong commitment as a volunteer with the Redwood Gospel Mission and said the victim in the 2001 case vouched for his good behavior in a written letter of support.
Frates received the news of the pardon last Monday when he returned a missed call from the Governor’s Office. It was the second in less than 24 hours, with an employee there calling him the night before to ask about his life following his 2004 release from prison.
Frates was at his desk at the Santa Rosa Couch Shop Furniture Warehouse, where he works as a manager, when he got the second call.
“It was a Christmas miracle,” Frates said.
“I’m just in awe that this happened. In this moment, there’s a lot to be thankful for.”
Brown has issued a total of 1,332 pardons and 283 commutations, which waive or reduce sentences for inmates in custody, since he returned as governor in 2011, the Governor’s Office said.
Frates wasn’t seeking a pardon when he first applied to get his criminal record expunged back in November 2016, he said. His faith and a suspicion that his criminal record was holding him back from landing better jobs were what motivated him to bring the case to a Sonoma County Superior Court judge.
“I felt like God was impressing on me to apply for an expungement,” Frates said. “I wanted to get a better job and to move forward with my life.”
Frates was arrested in Santa Rosa in May 2001 for making threats to harm his on-again-off-again girlfriend at the time, said Evan Zelig, a criminal defense attorney who represented Frates. The pair were using drugs and alcohol at the time and the woman reported Frates to police after receiving multiple menacing phone calls from him, Zelig said.
Prosecutors charged Frates for both stalking and making threats of great bodily injury, though he was only convicted of the stalking charge, online court records show.
Frates was initially sentenced to a year in jail in August 2001, according to the court records, but he was later sent to state prison for parole violations related to continued drug use, according to the Sonoma County Superior Court website.