Never look back

Mission Solano program helps drug addicts find new lives

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Nathan Ratcliff is a changed man and he wants people to know it.

Almost two years ago, the 42-year-old was a poster child for prisoners, having spent 25 years intermittently behind bars in more prisons than he can count in one hand.

He began his sordid life at 13 with an addiction to marijuana and alcohol. One year later, he shifted his appetite to cocaine and methamphetamine. He admits he sold out to that lifestyle.

By the time he reached 18, when many students are entering college, Ratcliff was sleeping in the dormitories of prison, carrying a backpack filled with two armed robberies, drunk driving charges and an addiction to cocaine.

He was insane, he admits, doing the same things over and expecting different outcomes.

On Friday, Ratcliff and Wayne Graybeal, who once had checkered lives, graduated from Mission Solano's "Rays of Hope" program, a unique holistic recovery program geared to assist those with chemical dependencies and emotional voids.

Today, his face is rid of the persisting pain he carried for so many years as etched in his San Quentin prison mug shot. Ratcliff's hair is shorter, his eyes are beaming and his attitude of gratitude is ceaseless.

"There is no going back," he says with determination.

Ratcliff will complete 17 months of being clean and sober on Monday after spending countless years lost in darkness and in a bondage.

"This is not where I thought I'd be a year-and-a-half ago when I was in a jail cell," he says. His smile radiates against the morning sun before his graduation. "I believe God delivered me from that."

Nine months

On Aug. 31, 2005, Ratcliff fell to his knees and accepted God. He was drained of the life he was leading.

He was hurting the ones who loved him most, selling drugs, and led police through a five-county high-speed chase.

"I was not a good guy and I got tired of being tired," he says.

Enter Raymond Courtemanche, director of programs at Mission Solano, who believed in Ratcliff.

"I was asking to get into a program when I was in jail but no one wanted to do it. They wanted to throw me away," Ratcliff recalls of his last time in jail, which lasted nine months. "But Brother Raymond took a chance and batted for me. I was ready."

Courtemanche believed in him. He went to the hearings, met with Ratcliff's probation officer and communicated with him while in jail. He did this, he says, because he could see Ratcliff had "a God thing going on."

"He showed a passion to fulfill the relationship with God, which is a good fit at Mission Solano," he says. "I've known him and had several conversations with him to help and be alongside him. But it wasn't the right time for him back then. Now it is."

Ratcliff was released by Solano County courts into the custody of Mission Solano, avoiding an 11-year jail sentence. A few weeks later, Graybeal, who was also in jail, followed suit. It was the first time Mission Solano worked with a parolee in lieu of having them go to prison.

Seven months later, Ratcliff and Graybeal worked through a 12-step program, changed their lifestyle behaviors, completed an outpatient program and participated in at least 275 hours of drug and alcohol counseling.

"It's a very exciting time for me. I was lost before but now the truth is everything," says Ratcliff, who drives a truck for a thrift store delivering furniture. "I don't have any regrets now and I have a clean conscience. I haven't had that in years."

The graduation

And then there were two.

Out of six men who started the program at Mission Solano, only two are graduating - the same two who shared a jail cell more than a year ago.

Within the walls of Mission Solano's church, before a tall wooden cross and a small podium, Ratcliff and Graybeal sit at the front row and listen as their supporters speak.

"Wayne had a very difficult life beginning from his teens," Marlene Paulson says of her son-in-law, Graybeal. "It's been very challenging because of the lifestyle he chose at an early age.

"Then one day he called from jail and asked for a Bible," she continues. "He got his act together because he knew the Lord was in control."

Graybeal, who lost his father in an auto accident on Wednesday, smiles and nods his head as she speaks, as if her words soothe the pain from his past.

Earlier, several folks gathered outside the Mission Solano court off Travis Boulevard, hugging and congratulating the two graduates.

"This is what makes all the hard work possible and then seeing the changed lives, their hopes and dreams," says Ron Marlette, executive director of Mission Solano.

Nancy Lee Liebscher, Ratcliff's mother and a woman with strong convictions, says she's proud of her son and pleased he allowed God to enter his life.

"My future no longer includes visiting him in prison," she says. "The road wasn't all bad. It was long but it was exciting. I knew he would come back to Jesus. I just didn't know when."

Standing with a smile that seems will never go away, Ratcliff looks around the room and nods his head.

"I want to be known for who I am now, not the person I was. I changed it all around," he says and walks off.