What It's Like To...

What It's Like To Be Imprisoned for 19 Years for a Murder You Didn't Commit

March 29, 2023 Season 5 Episode 5
What It's Like To Be Imprisoned for 19 Years for a Murder You Didn't Commit
What It's Like To...
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What It's Like To...
What It's Like To Be Imprisoned for 19 Years for a Murder You Didn't Commit
Mar 29, 2023 Season 5 Episode 5

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Gregory Nottage was a successful businessman when, at age 26, he was wrongfully convicted of first degree murder. He spent 19 years in prison before being exonerated after the killer confessed to the crime. He says he lost everything--except hope. Gregory was released from prison in 2014  with just $200 of "gate money."   What Gregory has done since his release is extraordinary: he earned two degrees, and now runs a non-profit that creates full-time, paid transitional jobs for its former homeless clients, often leading to permanent employment.  In this episode, Gregory details his daily life behind bars; how and why he decided to stop seeing himself as a victim; and why serving others--while in prison, and now on the "outside"--is his life's purpose.  This man's story is a lesson for all of us in perspective and gratitude.

In this episode:

  • Gregory recounts his first night in prison and learning prison politics (02:04)
  • How he'd get through the days in prison (08:07)
  • His lowest point, and how it was a catalyst for changing his perspective (11:08)
  • Learning he was finally being released from prison (19:15)
  • Reintegrating back into the "real world" (23:54)
  • The impact Gregory's imprisonment had on his son (28:25)
  • How and why he found his way into the nonprofit work he does now (31:12)
  • What Streets Team Enterprises does for its clients (33:58)
  • Gregory's work with police cadets on perception and homelessness (39:16)

Want to know more about Gregory, Streets Team Enterprises, and Downtown Streets Team?

  • Learn about Streets Team Enterprises on their website (scroll down to read about Gregory): https://www.streetsteam.org/our-work/workforce-development-program
  • Read about the Downtown Streets Team on their website: https://www.streetsteam.org/
  • Find them on Facebook: downtownstreetsteam
  • Connect with them on Instagram: streetsteam
  • Tweet them on Twitter: downtownstreets
  • Watch videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/DowntownStreetsTeam

Want to know more about "What It's Like To..."?

  • Sign up to be on our Insiders' List to receive our newsletters and insiders' information! Go to whatitsliketo.net (sign-ups are at the bottom of the page)
  • Follow us on social media:

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Gregory Nottage was a successful businessman when, at age 26, he was wrongfully convicted of first degree murder. He spent 19 years in prison before being exonerated after the killer confessed to the crime. He says he lost everything--except hope. Gregory was released from prison in 2014  with just $200 of "gate money."   What Gregory has done since his release is extraordinary: he earned two degrees, and now runs a non-profit that creates full-time, paid transitional jobs for its former homeless clients, often leading to permanent employment.  In this episode, Gregory details his daily life behind bars; how and why he decided to stop seeing himself as a victim; and why serving others--while in prison, and now on the "outside"--is his life's purpose.  This man's story is a lesson for all of us in perspective and gratitude.

In this episode:

  • Gregory recounts his first night in prison and learning prison politics (02:04)
  • How he'd get through the days in prison (08:07)
  • His lowest point, and how it was a catalyst for changing his perspective (11:08)
  • Learning he was finally being released from prison (19:15)
  • Reintegrating back into the "real world" (23:54)
  • The impact Gregory's imprisonment had on his son (28:25)
  • How and why he found his way into the nonprofit work he does now (31:12)
  • What Streets Team Enterprises does for its clients (33:58)
  • Gregory's work with police cadets on perception and homelessness (39:16)

Want to know more about Gregory, Streets Team Enterprises, and Downtown Streets Team?

  • Learn about Streets Team Enterprises on their website (scroll down to read about Gregory): https://www.streetsteam.org/our-work/workforce-development-program
  • Read about the Downtown Streets Team on their website: https://www.streetsteam.org/
  • Find them on Facebook: downtownstreetsteam
  • Connect with them on Instagram: streetsteam
  • Tweet them on Twitter: downtownstreets
  • Watch videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/DowntownStreetsTeam

Want to know more about "What It's Like To..."?

  • Sign up to be on our Insiders' List to receive our newsletters and insiders' information! Go to whatitsliketo.net (sign-ups are at the bottom of the page)
  • Follow us on social media:

Support the Show.

Hello and welcome to what it's like to the podcast that lets you walk in someone else's shoes and live vicariously through their unique experiences. I'm your host, Elizabeth Pearson Gar, and each episode I'll be asking a new interviewee, although what, why, when, and wheres of how they do what they do.

 This is a story that is so incredible. It sounds fictional, but it really happened when Gregory Knowledge was 26 years old. He was a successful businessman when his life took the most dramatic turn imaginable. He was wrongly convicted of first degree murder. Gregory spent the next 19 years in prison.

He was exonerated when the real killer confessed, and Gregory finally was set free in 2014. What he's done since his release is extraordinary. He's [00:01:00] earned two degrees and now helps others who are working to reclaim their lives. Today, Gregory is the Executive Director of Streets Team Enterprises, which creates full-time, paid transitional jobs for its former homeless clients, leading to permanent employment.

Gregory, it's an honor to meet you. Thank you for your good work, and thank you for being on my podcast.

Absolutely. Nice to meet you as well.

I'm would like to talk about what you've been through and where you are now. 

 I just can't imagine kind of a regular guy going through your life, and then one day you're just put into the prison system. You haven't been a criminal, you haven't actually done anything wrong, and then all of a sudden you're being punished and you're in this institution.

Did your mind have to just suddenly shift into this?

It was purely fear is how I survived. For a long time, I was just scared. I don't know if people really talk about that. but I was scared to death, imagine at this moment you're plucked out of your life and you no longer have that life.

It [00:02:00] is the most surreal experience. and

imagine that. 

that first night, in county jail, I mean, I was scared to death. I was put into a eight man cell with seven Hispanics, most of which were gang members. And I didn't know anything from anything. I didn't know. What AO was, what a norteno was, what a blood crip.

 I didn't know anything. And, you get a pretty quick education on, you know, that lifestyle. And, it ended up in a lot of fights and You just do what you can to survive. the easiest way for me to describe what prison's life is like.

It's, think of everything that's normal on this side. And you cross those walls and it's the opposite. So here it's normal to talk to the collapse and, get the police involved inside. It's the opposite, out here we talk about equality, we talk about togetherness, and we talk about, crossing those racial divides inclusiveness [00:03:00] inside everything is ran by race.

You're white, you're black, you're Hispanic, you're other, and even in that realm, you know, there's divisions within the Hispanic culture, divisions within the white culture division, within the black culture. everything has its structure. and it's learning to navigate that structure and those rules and those norms.

Is that racial differentiation to try to keep peace or something? Or why do they rent it that way?

So there was an unwritten rule that if I was white, I could not sell up with somebody of another race. It was just an unwritten rule, both. Internally within the prison population and then externally within, the correctional officers that we're working in. And if you think about it from their lens, you can control a population of people by locking down a whole population of people, So if the Hispanics have their own internal [00:04:00] politics and they get into a riot you lock them down. If the whites and blacks get into a riot you know, you lock the whites and the blacks down, 

 And that makes sense. I get it. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. 

And it's also a way to control a population on a negative. You can pit. different races against each other on purpose. and I've seen that happen and it's super unfortunate cause the only thing that comes from it is people get hurt. 

it's very reductionist. let's bring everybody down to the kind of their basis. levels and their basis instincts. You know, just what do you look like and how are you gonna get by fighting, you know, you're just judging people kind of on their externals and on how strong you are.

 doesn't sound like anyone's getting by, by conversation or, communication or diplomacy or anything like that. It's all just very primal.

It's very primal. and, it's all about the power. Who's got the power I mean, I can spend days talking about how this whole process works. Within each race. There's different, what they [00:05:00] call cars, for instance, 

as a white guy, I was convicted in Orange County, so I'm in the, what they call, quote unquote the Orange County car. So wherever I go, people from Orange County are who you align with at first, and then you align with the greater white population as a whole. 

 and then there's, rules. Like there's specific areas that the whites can go and specific areas that the whites cannot go. You can't stand over in that area because that might be, the Southerners area or the Nortenos area or the Blacks area. and then within all of that, there's all the politics that come in.

One of the things I just didn't agree with, I can't sit down at a table with an African American and have a meal without people from my race having a problem with that. and it created me some challenges. And I'll be honest with you, probably 95% of the people that I have strong relationships that I was inside with are all of [00:06:00] color and not from the white population I created and was able to form closer relationships with them.

And then as they got out, we maintained those relationships.

So all of these rules, and I put that in quotation marks, are things that you just had to learn in these first days and weeks.

Yeah. There's no handbook that says, here's your go to prison, for dummy's book. unless you are from the streets and you grew up in that lifestyle and learned from your peers from the streets, if you're, quote unquote a square like me, You're figuring it out as you're going, you're building the plane as you're flying it.

 And I made some quote unquote mistakes, you know, and ended up having to deal with that.

And at this time also in your early months, first couple years, did you have any hope that you were going to get out? were there people working for 

your release?

 I had a great team of people,[00:07:00] they were doing fundraisers for me a lot of the people from the church I was going to at the time, and, I reached out to, for instance, the innocent project in great organization, but they only work with physical evidence. And in my case, there's no fingerprints, no witnesses, no weapon, nothing.

I got convicted purely on hearsay evidence, and so there was nothing to quote unquote test. to see if this was true. You know, I had hope that the system would work and do the right thing. it's the system we have. Is it the best system? Is it flawed? Yes. there's arguments on both sides of that.

And I'm not naive enough to say that you know, it's just wholly broken cuz I don't think it is. I might have a different view than others that have been in my situation. think it's the best system that we have. Can it be, adjusted and made better? Sure,

So tell me how you would get through your days. Would you just kind of look at it like, I just need to get through this day, or I gotta [00:08:00] keep hope until it kind of started diminishing as the years went by. I just don't know how you put one foot in front of the other through this.

You get into a routine. it was interesting. I remember I would ask, what day is it today? Because every day is the same. you know, the lights come on at five 30, you're at chow. By six 30, you're back in your cell by seven. if you don't go to breakfast, you don't get your lunch.

So you, if you don't have any food in your cell, then you have to wait till dinner time. So if you're hungry and you need to eat, then you go to breakfast and you get a sack lunch and you bring it back to your cell. And, I was pretty fortunate and that I always had a job pretty much the whole time I was incarcerated. I worked in the canteen, for example, which is the store. and then it went from there to working in the education department and you know, I was a barber at one time. I mean,


I've never had garbage training before, but I guess it's not

You learned

and shave somebody's head, 

 I worked as a [00:09:00] watch commander's clerk once where, I worked from 10 to six in the morning, and that was the only inmate out, you know, I had various jobs and I always tried to stay busy with that. so if you're fortunate enough to get a five day a week job, to keep you out of the building and out of the cell and off the yard, fantastic.

 if you don't, it's the same thing every day. the yard opens up at a specific time. You go out to the yard, you hang out with the fellas and they talk, you listen to a bunch of stupid stories and you go back in, you wait for count and count's done.

You go to dinner, you come back and you're back in your cell again. it's the same thing every day. you know, you get time to work out, whether it's in your cell or you're outside to keep yourself physically healthy, read if you like to read and you just do it.

 I mean, it's amazing what the human spirit can do. And I think about this a lot when I work with the unhoused population. in my perspective, they're some of the strongest people around. they are in harsh elements, and they are [00:10:00] surviving every single day.

And when I look at my life and I'm living in a home with heat in water, in the restroom, in a shower, in food, my life's not hard. And any problems that come my way, I call 'em quality problems. These are just quality life problems. so when I see somebody that's really struggling and they're on the streets, I can empathize with them in the sense that I know what it's like to lose hope and I know what it's like to lose everything and have nothing.

 to me, they're some of the strongest people I know.

 I would agree. I mean, it's all perspective, right? And sometimes we can lose it easily, especially those of us who have privilege and can take it for granted.


I think it's remarkable that you went through such a tragic experience and didn't just dwell in bitterness, but instead had the. wherewithal to turn it into something bigger and live outwardly towards helping others.[00:11:00] 

Was that a transition that happened gradually while you were incarcerated, or how did you get to this place?

 when I was arrested and convicted and sent to prison, I was extremely angry and scared and frustrated and, you know, all those, emotions you can imagine. And it really wasn't until 2005 when I really had like a cognitive shift in the way I was looking at my incarceration and looking at my life.

 at the time it had been close to 10 years. the prison environment is not, you know, a fun place to be per se. And I had been through a lot. I'd been, in many fights, riots been stabbed, been locked down, been in isolation, went through a whole lot of stuff. And it really came to a head in summer of [00:12:00] 2005.

I was just done, I was done with the prison politics, I was done with, the cops telling me what to do, what to eat, when to shower, everything to do with that life. And I made the decision to take my life and Made a deal with somebody that was on the yard and bought some heroin and wrote a letter to my son and was standing at my door waiting for the door to open, to go to yard and my door opened and they called me and said I had a visit.

And kind of surprised me cuz I wasn't expecting a visit. And I went out to the visiting room and it was a friend of mine and he said, look, I don't know what it was, but all night long I kept hearing, I need to come see you. I need to come see you. And it was really at that moment where I stopped being a victim of my situation and I told him what I was gonna do. obviously talked a lot about it[00:13:00] it was really at that moment I just had this shift in the way I was looking at my incarceration and I said, I'm just not gonna be a victim of this anymore.

And, know, I said, if this is gonna be the rest of my life, then fine. how am I gonna make my life better in here? And if I can do anything better for anybody else, how can I do that? And I just shifted the way I was looking at, my current situation. And I got really busy and, we started band programs, started, a college program that's now in all 36 prisons.

 we did a bunch of fundraising and, then I got involved with what's called the Offender Mentor Certification Program and was running self-help groups from 2009 until I was released. And, just really changed the way I was looking at life. I was like, I can't keep going on this journey like this.

It was killing me and I couldn't deal with that [00:14:00] pain.

did you still have to deal with all the negativity that was there? I mean the fights and the stabbing and all the politics and all that? Or did you feel like by that change of mindset you were almost able to step out of that?

 I would say that's a really great question. I mean, the environment you're in is the environment you're in. That's not gonna change. at that time in a building with 99 other people, on a yard with 1200 other people a prison with 4,500 other people,and the way I was looking at my life, it shifted, but the prison didn't shift.

Right. The day to day you still had to go through, you were still living in a cell, still eating the same things 


And then later that year, I transferred, From where I was at, at Ironwood State Prison, up north to Solano State Prison, purposely to start the college program up at Solano. And we were able to do that and that was a big [00:15:00] shift that went from a two-person cell to living in a building that was an open dorm setting with 250 other people.

 it was intense. Yeah, it was pretty intense. And you had zero privacy. You never had privacy. There was no doors. You showered in the open. You used the restroom in the open, you ate in the open, everything was in the open. And there's general politics within the prison system that kind of transcend from wherever, you go.

 and I kind of bucked the system, I guess, in a way. I didn't really align myself with the white politics I pushed up against that pretty hard right away. And it caused me some challenges and some fights but I just, shifted the way I was looking at everything and, I didn't bite into, what was the norm. 

So you had that low, where you were close to taking your life and your friend fortunately came at that particular time. And after that, can you just [00:16:00] tell me how you felt this, the days just took on a different kind of meaning?

Just took on a different meaning. I mean, it was pretty clear to me that, I was stuck in this victim cycle. which made me angry and resentful and frustrated, and the only person that was hurting was me. 

but also very understandable. I mean, you really were 

Absolutely. it is what it is. And, I have a belief that we have a choice in this, and we have a choice on which path we want to take if we're in a situation like that. And I had chose to be in that state because it made me feel okay. It made me feel good to be mad at the system, mad at the cops, mad at the judge mad at the police officer, mad at everybody, right?

It's what made me feel good. But really what was happening is it was breaking me down it was not. Serving a purpose. There was nothing positive coming from that. And when I released [00:17:00] that and let that go, and took that burden off of my shoulders, things just looked brighter.

It was still the same people, it was still the same cell, it was still the same yard. It just took on a different light for me. it's hard to describe how I did it, or what that process was. It was really just a cognitive, internal, just. I'm done. And I'm letting this go. And once I made that shift, things seemed to change.

My attitude towards myself, changed my attitude towards other people, changed my hope. Did I still have hope that I would get out one day? Absolutely. But I didn't hold onto that. Like that was the only thing that is gonna make me happy. And I started finding happiness in other things. I started finding happiness in building authentic relationships, which you can do inside.

I found happiness in music. I started playing music. I found happiness in going back to [00:18:00] school. surprisingly enough, I was a high school dropout, but ended up with my insurance license. And, I got my g e D at 35 and then I got my associate's degree, and then I went on to the O M C P program and got certified as a drug and alcohol counselor.

So I started to like, hold on to things and grasp for things that were more meaningful and tangible. my vision of my life just took on a whole different, view.

 how did the fact that you were going to get released, filtered down to you? I'm sure it wasn't just one day, Hey, pack your bags. What was 

that process like? 

well, no, it wasn't that dramatic. 

It wasn't like a movie,

 I ended up transferring from Solano, because I was involved in the offender mentor certification program, which The group I was in was called the first 50. 

 and they wanted the, the guys that had gone through graduated, got certified to go to other institutions to run groups at these different institutions.

So I transferred from Solano to C M C West, which is in San Lu Obispo, and. Because I [00:19:00] transferred, they have these parole hearings that you go to every three to five years. And I had a parole hearing come up. Well, I had a court appointed attorney and that court appointed attorney could not represent me at this other institution.

So of my very dear friends, a guy named Steve Stump, who just happens to be a police officer, works in San Jose in the court systems. He's a trainer at the San Mateo Police Academy. He paid for this attorney, a guy named Charles Carone outta San Francisco.

And I really was like a little frustrated around that because I didn't believe in attorneys. I lost hope in attorneys and they were spending their own money to. Paid this guy, and he came out and he was this little Italian guy, bald. And I'll never forget that day, I was sitting in a chair.

We were in this small room in the visiting room, and he just kept pacing back and forth, pacing back and forth, asking me all these questions. And then he said, okay. And then we left. And I hadn't heard [00:20:00] anything for like a month. And, he ended up tracking down a guy that was arrested with me 

And he's like, look, I want to go visit this guy. I want to have a conversation with him. it's gonna cost, I think it was $5,000 for me to go do this. And my family's and friends were like, we want to pay for that. And I'm like, don't waste your money. I mean, come on,

 my, Faith in that system had just been like, wiped away. And I thought he was scam us. And so they said, we're doing it. So Steve and a few others paid him and he went, and about three or four weeks later, I call home and they're like, have you talked to Charles?

And I'm like, no, you need to call him right now. And at the time, we got a 15 minute collect call every three days. You had to sign up for it. sometimes you didn't get it, sometimes you did. And so I hung up right away and I'll call Charles and I'm like, Charles, this is Gregory.

And he's like, you're going home.


I went, [00:21:00] what? and he said, I'm coming to visit you next week, but you're going home. And I just lost it.

Oh my.

crying right now. I just lost it. And I was in a phone booth in the middle of the yard. Crying, and my friends came up and they're like, are you okay?

Are you okay? They thought somebody had passed or something had happened.


 and then Charles came up and he had interviewed this guy. And during that interview he admitted to, killing Dirk. He admitted to that. I had nothing to do with it. I have his handwritten statement, I still have it. I used to carry it on me, but I have his handwritten statement, outlining what had happened and that I had nothing to do with it.

 and so it went from there to, okay, now we need to get this to the board, because I'm property per se. I'm under the custody of the Department of Corrections. You need to go to the board. The board needs to review everything and then you get released. So I went to the board [00:22:00] and, got released June 20th, 2014.


 this guy that was arrested with you, who confessed to the killing, he was in a different prison this whole time,

yep. Yeah, first time I met him was in the courtroom and have never seen him since. And, he wouldn't testify. didn't separate our trials, so he wouldn't testify or I wouldn't be here. I would've never had that experience. I don't know, I kind of look at it from a different perspective, again, as sort of my higher powers way of saying, I was kind of a douchebag.

I was making a lot of money and if I saw somebody on the streets, I didn't give. two looks at 'em, didn't care. and that's the frame of mind I was in at that time. And I really do believe that my higher power was like, you know what, we need to hit the reset button with you and put you on vacation for a little while

Well, that was quite a reset and quite a vacation. I don't

what reset? But it took that long for me to get it. [00:23:00] I mean, that's just how I choose to look at it. And, for me it's important because now it really drives the work I get to do every day.

Yeah, I, wanna get to that, but I think you were starting to talk about, so you did get out and then do you get on a bus or in a car, and then are you just dropped somewhere? I don't know what this experience is. All I see is movies. I don't know what it's really like

I mean, yes. If you don't have somebody that is, identified to pick you up, they literally do put you in a van and drive you to the bus station and give you a bus ticket and you go, wherever it is you're going.

Good luck.

With 200 bucks, $200 gate money.


what they give you. $200.

 they call it gate money. It's the same amount of gate money they've been giving since the early seventies.

Oh, no inflation for the 

gate. Money 

No, inflation now. basically my friends picked me up. we ended up going to [00:24:00] breakfast. My, ex-wife was there, my son was there, and a few of my friends, we had breakfast and then they drove me up to Berkeley and I was like, okay, now what's next?

And. in the O M C P program that I was in, the people that were running the program, Dr. Devita, Cody and Tom Gorum. I just created a great relationship with them and I connected with them. When I found out I was getting out, I said, I'm coming to Berkeley. And they said, look, it's up.

And so I showed up there in my little sweatsuit and my box of stuff and, they were able to give me transitional housing. I lived in transitional housing for about 18 months. They gave me a part-time job making 10 bucks an hour. I thought I was killing it, 

 Dr. Cody really encouraged me to go back to school. And so I enrolled full-time at San Francisco State. I was, working full-time, going to school full-time.

I mean, what else was I gonna do? I didn't really know anybody. And, ended up getting my bachelor's degree in criminal justice. [00:25:00] continued on and got my master's in counseling psychology

That's amazing.

I am eight years later, whatever it is. 

what did that feel like to be back in the real world after 19 years?

it was awesome and scary. Awesome in that, I could go to the store and get what I want to eat and kind of go where I wanted to go. And, it took a while. you start off in this little circle that you explore and then you expand that circle and expand and expand.

the hardest thing I would say would be technology changed. Obviously,



social media, all of that changed.

phones came out.

yeah. Cell phones and social media and Facebook and all of that stuff. so that was a big learning curve. I also noticed that the way, society in general, um, Congregates had changed.

 for me, if you wanted to meet people, you went to a bar and you had a drink and you [00:26:00] danced and you kind of met people that way. And now it was all electronic and tech and, you know, on apps. And so dating changed. I had some, interesting dating experiences, I remember met, this girl online.

We went to dinner and I was always very transparent around who I am and what my experience was. And I remember like, what do you do? And I told her, I was intake coordinator and options recovery. And she's like, what's that? We talked about it and she's, how long have you been doing that?

Oh, about four months, five months. What'd you do before that? Well, you know, I was on vacation and, uh,

hitting the reset button.

Yeah. And we were in, San Francisco, at this Italian restaurant, and you know, I wish her all the best, but I remember sitting there and she goes, I have to use the restroom.

So she got up and left and I was sitting there eating, and her food was like half eaten and she never came back.

Oh no.

And I 

didn't do that. Move[00:27:00] 

like an hour and the waiter kept coming by. Is she coming back? I'm like, yeah, and I was getting concerned. Is she okay? what's


I texted her, no response. And I got ghosted right there at the dinner table

so rude. 

The funny part about that story is 

 I had parked in a parking garage and it was past 10 o'clock and they were closed.

Oh, no.

And I was like, and I

add insult to injury.

yeah, I was living in a transitional house in Berkeley. And then I had to pay for overnight parking. I mean, it was an experience.

Oh, thanks a lot, lady. 


makes a good story.

I think crowds were an issue for me. they still are a little bit, I'm a people person.

I love being in crowds. I love, talking with people, but I also have a tendency to always be really cautious around my surroundings and I'm always like hypervigilant around, okay, how do you get outta here? it's kind of strange and odd. for instance, when I was at school, 

Every single [00:28:00] class I sat in the front row. I could not be in the back, in the middle I always needed to be able to get up and go. But also, I'm very easily distracted and so I needed to like focus on the teacher and, be the teacher's pet. 

you mentioned that when you got out, your ex-wife and son were there. can you talk a little bit about that, of having your son while you were in prison?

yeah. Claude is an amazing lady and she really did her very best to bring him up when she could, collect phone calls, pay for that. At the time, you know, they were kind of expensive. They were like 15, 20 bucks every time he called. And, they were living in Orange County, 

And, it was super hard on them and. Claude and Josh really lost a lot by me going away. we lost our home, we lost our cars. They ended up, living in a one bedroom apartment with a beat up car. she had to deal with all of that on her own. Raising [00:29:00] a boy on your own. and she's done really well for herself. And you know, I give her all the credit, she really. Did a lot to ensure that Josh and I had, a connection and you know, there came a time where he didn't want to come visit anymore.

 he was early teens and didn't want to drive, five hours and stand in line for an hour and a half and visit me for three hours and then turn around and go back and I get it. it was hard on him and, I can't even imagine, all he went through, but I know he struggled with, being in a pretty affluent school district and you know, where's your dad, And having to explain that. And I know that that caused him a lot of problems. my son's gay, he's got an amazing partner, Chris, and I know he struggled with his sexuality and that was, 15 years ago, was not as accepted and welcomed and encouraged as it is today. [00:30:00] So he really struggled with that and got bullied a lot and dropped outta school and just really struggled.

And, do believe that if I was out with him I could have helped, guide him through that. But he did his best and he's an amazing human and I love him dearly and I am eternally grateful to Claude for all she did, in encouraging and, facilitating. Josh and I have an amazing relationship, 

and he's doing well now.

he's great.

He's awesome. Yeah, he's fantastic.

It's so nice to have a happy ending cuz that's really heartbreaking that, your circumstance was hard, not just on you, but then it has this collateral effect on those you love.


So, you're back, you're out of prison. you're in Berkeley and then, you just sort of knew intrinsically that you wanted to turn your energy and your time and all of your efforts into helping others.


 I think that that's, really lovely. You didn't, keep any of [00:31:00] this, frustration at the system. you more want to use what you've been through and leverage it to relate to other people. How did you find your way to, the downtown streets team?

so I was at Options for about two and a half-ish years and, a friend of mine reached out to me and he was working at Community Housing Partnership, is a permanent supportive housing program in San Francisco. And he said, Hey, they're looking for a resident services manager.

I think you would be great for it. pays good money and, you should apply. and I walked into the interview room and there was.

The guy that knew me, that referred me for the job, and, my two B boss and another resident services manager, and another resident services manager. And, the one at the end was Romi. And, she's asking me all these questions and she even laughs about it today. She asked me, do you think you'll feel safe [00:32:00] in the Tenderloin?

And I just sorta laughed, like, yeah,

I've been on the prison yard for a while.

yeah. And you know, she gets it now and she laughs about it now, but I remember walking out and asking the guy, I said, so how'd I do? He's like, oh, you did amazing. And I said, so what's up with that chick? And he's like, oh, she's engaged. And I'm like, ah, a challenge. I like that. needless

been through a few challenges before.

yeah, I got the job and Romi and I ended up being peers and she was engaged.

I went to her engagement party and, we just clicked and, was a super support for me of learning this new job and, our, value systems just really aligned. And, you know, I started in June of 2017 and, by [00:33:00] November, she had called Off her wedding, and In January, we moved in together in 2018 and by September 30th of that year we were married. And here 

we are. Yeah, 

two little babies.

little baby. So

 then, I got promoted at my organization to senior programs manager and then Romi started with Downtown Streets team and she was there for about a year.

 and it had gotten to the realization that, Somebody needed to come in and really take over spearheading Street Team Enterprises And so I'm like, chair, I love a challenge. Why not? Let's do this. so I joined a little over two years ago.

and I mean, it's been an amazing journey ever since. and we've really grown, as an organization providing workforce development for individuals. And, we have over a hundred employees today.

 our goal is really what [00:34:00] is your workplace identity? What does that look like for you? What is it like to show up on time and clock in and clock out on a time clock app? What's it like to wear the right clothing? how do we develop your, professional communication skills?

All of these things we work on. I'm a firm believer in paying our people with their worth. So the lowest pay scale for all of our staff are 18 bucks an hour, but go all the way up to 32 50 an hour. so they can earn some money. a lot of our individuals are currently unhoused.

 and they're showing up to work every day. But our goal is to get them to a space where they're earning enough money to where they can get into housing. For me, my hope, my goal is always to get somebody into housing that's unsubsidized.

 that way they're not bound to that and they can. grow. and it's been really successful and we just continue to grow and see people thrive. And last week I got a call from a gentleman who had been [00:35:00] incarcerated for, many years and he was living at a program in San Francisco and.

he came to work with us at Street Team Enterprises and then we helped him get a job in permanent supportive housing, working as a janitor. He just got promoted to, a supervisor and just moved into his own apartment, unsubsidized within one year. And that's the journey we wanna see.

 it's a lot easier to get a job if you have a job. If you don't have a job, it's hard to get that first job. 

 are a really low barrier. Really. You just need of valid ID to work with us. And then we have our case managers that work with them on whatever barriers that they're working on, whether it's housing, whether it could be relationships. Do you want to go back to school?

What is the career path you want to go on?

 whatever their journey is, we support them. They're the experts in their lives. We're here to support them. We work for them.

What are some of the types of jobs that they tend to get, 


you be, you're able to [00:36:00] place them in?

 with Street Team Enterprises. Right now we've got crews, if you're driving down, the freeway, and you see a white van in a big orange trailer and people are picking up debris.

That's our crews, they're out there cleaning up the community, getting paid wage to, sustain them. 

 That's just one avenue

in one. but we've had people go into security, we've had people go back to school.

We've had people, go into custodial, maintenance, you know, those types of, 



you share your background with any of your clients?


Do you

Yep. And I'm out there with them. My belief is how do you run an organization if you don't understand what the work is? And so This morning I was removing graffiti off of bus stops. I've installed bus stops.

I've been out with my crews in a bow tie, wear bow tie every day. I've been out, picking up litter and debris, with them. they're no different. And I want them to [00:37:00] understand that, I have a philosophy around hierarchy. I think that's a system that, classes, people in different positions.

And I don't necessarily subscribe to that. There's always somebody that's gotta be at the top and be responsible. And that's the reality of it. But it doesn't mean you can't, align and work with and empathize and really do the work. I'm not gonna ask anybody to do anything. I'm not willing to do myself.


 And hierarchy doesn't mean that the person at the quote unquote top is any better than the other people. It just might mean they have more experience in that organization or in that line of work. But we're all people 


of the human race here to support each other.

Absolutely. And, you know, I share my story with them, hopefully an inspiration of hope that where they're at right now is just where they're at right now, wherever they want to go they have the journey that they can take, 

 and I believe that too. The only obstacle that's sitting in front of me is me. there's societal [00:38:00] things. the one thing I really realized pretty quickly is I'm an older white male with gray hair, glasses and a bow tie. I'm going to unfortunately get treated differently, but I can use that and I can use that for people that don't have, that privilege

and be that voice for somebody that may not have that voice, that education, the background, whatever it is, to create change.

Well this leads to my next question, perception of people, judging people by the bow tie and the, glasses and the white face. I think you have some interesting perspective on perception, and I've read that you do some work with the San Mateo, police Department, and I'd love to hear about that work and 

what you help, educate them about

Absolutely. So I've been fortunate for the past, I guess it's been three, three and a half years now, to do a training on perception, homelessness, and mental health with the cadets at the San Mateo Police Academy.[00:39:00] so I go down roughly once a quarter. the trainer that's there is Steve, the guy that paid for me,

that helped. Oh, your very, very good friend,

and also the one that married Romi and I, 

Oh, how lovely.

So it's really cool. So there's a room of, very, enthusiastic cadets. They're getting into law enforcement. So I congratulate them for the work and thank them for choosing this path. It's a very challenging path. and we talk about, yeah, especially now, we talk a lot about what their perception is of an unhoused.

And I really try to break the group down. I really try to get them to talk about what their perceptions are of somebody that they see on the streets. And a lot of the same themes come up, from, all they need to do is get a job or it's their choice.

And then, inevitably there's always somebody in the room that says, I struggled with that, or I have a family member that's struggling with that and it kind of likebrings it down And [00:40:00] then we break down some of the perceptions around, mental health and substance abuse and the connection to homelessness with that.

And, if people are honest with themselves, if they lost their jobs today, how long could you sustain without having another job? How quickly could somebody end up being unhoused? and then we talk about mental health in the connections to that and how street drugs come into managing mental health.

It's undiagnosed or untreated. And then we talk about access, and there's barriers that are in front of them.

If they don't have an id, they can't go in and get treatment because they can't self-identify, well, if if you don't have an address, how do you get your id? Where does it get sent to? You there's just so many


 And so we talk a lot about that and and I get them to really open up around what their perception is.

You guys are gonna be the ones that are in dealing with somebody in their very worst moment, at the very worst time in their lives. And I just want them to slow down and think about this person, as a human, as an individual, not as a collective. And then at the end of that, [00:41:00] hour and a half, two hours that we're talking, I kind of bait him and I said, you guys are trained observers.

 this is what you signed up for. This is your job. What's my story? And I grab a, a white marker pen, and I go up to the board and I give you free license say what you want to say, whatever you think, who am I? Where did I grow up? what's my education, what's my background?

All of that. And I always get, I drive a Prius, which makes me laugh. probably the funniest one was somebody said, I think you show cats. And I thought that was hilarious. I have three cats, but I thought it was hilarious. Yeah. 

For some reason, I always get I'm gay, which I fine with that. Okay. But it's all of these things, this is my second career. I'm well educated, I've got a lot of money, blah, blah, blah, blah. All the like, quote unquote stereotypical stuff that somebody may, when you first see somebody or hear them come up with.

And then I start going through the list, Nope, nope, nope. And I check off [00:42:00] all of these things. And I said, it, is that easier for you guys to misjudge me based off of what you see? Right. And then I share with them my story and, of 'em are just really surprised. And then

Jaws on the floor.

and then Steve comes up and he talks what it was like as a police officer to know that his friend was incarcerated and what it was like for him as a police officer to come visit me bring his son to visit me in prison 

So to really just break down the stereotypes and the perceptions and really just get them hopefully to a space when they're out there doing their job and somebody is in a crisis moment at the worst space of their lives that they just. Think that that's somebody's mother, brother, sister, friend.

There's somebody, somebody, and slow down instead of just reacting to the situation, get curious, ask [00:43:00] questions. You have no idea who this individual is. You don't know their story, what drew them there, what their path was and their journey. And you know, just show some compassion and kindness and you have to do your job.

Yes, absolutely. But there is ways to do this job that are, more compassionate and, supportive for people that may be less fortunate than you and I.

I think we are all so quick to make judgements and to just, assess and move throughout our days and think that we know things, about ourselves and about other people about the world without really trying to go deeper.

 and that's a protection mechanism. I get it. if you know somebody's story, then somehow you are also pulled into that story and you have a choice of whether to do something about it or not do something. So if you don't know anything, you don't have to do anything. So, walking down the streets with the blinders on.

 find it, so funny that, [00:44:00] if I'm on the Bay Bridge of the Golden Gate Bridge and I'm crossing in, there's traffic and people are honking.

I'm like, people. , look where we're at. I mean, seriously, look around. How awesome is this? We're stuck in traffic for just a brief moment in time. But look around how awesome this is. Could be way worse, you know? And I'm not trying to shame anybody or make anybody feel bad.

This is not what this is about. It's just an awareness thing. And people go through life in many ways with blinders on because if they know, if they do look, if they make eye contact with somebody, then They may feel guilty that they're not doing anything about that. So it's a way to protect themselves.

Totally Get it. For me, I say just get curious. Just say hi. You never know what'll come from that relationship. You'll find mostly, and they're not gonna be asking you for anything. You may find that the most interesting person sitting on the streets. You just don't know unless

you ask 

I think everyone [00:45:00] has an interesting story. most aren't as dramatic as yours, but everybody has something interesting to tell.


I totally agree. And if you just get curious, ask questions, and just experience life. Life's way too valuable and too short to hold resentments, to hold judgments And the only person that hurts is yourself.

do you find that you're a more optimistic person than you used to be?

Oh, yeah. I'm way more optimistic now. I'm extremely hopeful. I'm a 54 year old man with two kids under two. I mean, you can't get much more hopeful than that. Right.

There's a lot to look forward to

Yeah, I have a lot to look forward to. And now I need to really, physically take care of myself because I wanna see them grow and be a part of their lives and see them graduate and get married or whatever it is they choose to do.

I wanna be a part of that. So, life is awesome. It is amazing. And every little [00:46:00] thing that we take for granted, that we may not pay attention to is super special. people take for granted going to Starbucks every day. Have you ever said hi to the person making your coffee, created that relationship?

Have you ever said hi to the person standing behind you that's doing the same thing you are. You just don't know who's around you. It's awesome.

Do you sometimes just think as you're going throughout your day, like, wow, 10 years ago I was sitting 


in a prison cell?

My mother-in-law  love her to death. she always says, 10 years ago, did you think your life would be like this? And I'm like, absolutely not. Never in my wildest dreams that I think I'd be living in a nice home, have a great job, be able to do this work, have two kids, three cats, and a dog.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this.

It's beautiful.

Yeah. It is beautiful.

Well, thank you for sharing your story and thank you for giving us 

the [00:47:00] jolt of optimism and just the perspective all of us can take because it is easy to be complacent and it's easy to just go through our lives with blinders. And I think it's important to have a broader perspective of where we are and where other people are around 


So I, I really appreciate your. sharing all this with me.

Absolutely. And for anybody that's listening, my encouragement to you is be curious. Just say hi. you have no idea where that can take you in the journey you could end up on, and the relationships you can create and the lives that you can change just by being curious.

 That's great advice. Well, it's just been a delight. I so enjoy talking to you, Gregory. Thank you for 

Thank you. Absolutely.


People often ask me, how do you get these guests you interview? Well, last fall I was reading a newspaper article about streets, team [00:48:00] enterprises, and there was a line in there about its executive director having been wrongfully convicted of murder. I thought, wow, I'd love to talk with this person for my podcast.

I knew it would be an incredible. What I couldn't know was what a compassionate, thoughtful, genuinely kind, soulful person Gregory knowledge would turn out to be, or the profound effect our conversation would have on me. So many times things he said will pop into my head and alter my perspective or make me think twice.

I could have had a very long list of takeaways for this episode. Here are just a few number. . The human ability to adapt even to challenging circumstances is astonishing. Two, when life is going well, it can be easy to lose perspective and begin taking things for granted. A warm home, enough food, the freedom to choose what you wanna do each day when things [00:49:00] don't go our way.

Remember, these are just quality problems. Three. We can make conscious choices about how to see ourselves. Gregory chose to no longer consider himself a victim and instead ask, how can I make this life even while in prison? Better for me and for other people? Four. Life is too valuable and too short to hold resentments and judgements.

The only person you hurt is yourself. You can choose to seek happiness. Work on building authentic relationships, play music, learn new things, don't lose hope. And finally, number six, be curious. Ask questions. Say hi. You never know what will come from that relationship, the journey you could go on or the lives you can change, including your.

I am so [00:50:00] grateful to Gregory Nage for sharing his time and his story with me. If you'd like to learn more about Gregory and Streets Team Enterprises, please check out the show notes for this episode on our website, what it's like to.net. You can also find all of our past episodes there if you're interested in hearing other stories about people who have gone through particularly difficult situations and used what they've learned from their experiences to help.

You may wanna check out episode 16 when Yusuf Usher talked about being in a Muslim cult. And episode 28 when Megan Wiz shared how she dealt with the death of her baby and how she and her family now support others going through similar circumstances. Like Gregory, it's incredible to hear what people can endure and come out so full of love and.

Thanks so much for listening to the podcast. If you're enjoying it, I'd really appreciate it if you'd share it with a few friends. I'm Elizabeth [00:51:00] Pearson Gar. Thanks for being curious about what it's like.