Criminal Justice Reform Advocate Gets Her Own Pardon 17 Years After Leaving Prison

Nov 7, 2019

Rhonda Bear (right) stands with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday outside She Brews, her coffee shop in Claremore. Stitt signed a pardon for Bear 17 years after her release from prison.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

A criminal justice reform advocate at last formally puts her past behind her.

Childhood trauma led Rhonda Bear into a cycle of addiction, culminating in losing her children and serving 19 months in prison. She was released in 2002 and now runs She Brews, a Claremore coffee shop where she’s helped women leaving prison re-enter society since 2012.

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a pardon for Bear there in front of a packed house Thursday.

"Rhonda’s just a fantastic Oklahoman. She’s provided so much hope, she’s an inspiration and she left her past behind 17 years ago, and I met her on the campaign trail two years ago. And so, it’s just exciting for me to be here today," Stitt said.

Besides running She Brews, Bear holds a degree in social work, is the Women in Transition director for Stand In The Gap Ministries and serves on the governor’s criminal justice reform task force. Bear said the pardon doesn’t necessarily change anything for her now.

"But I’m hoping that I’ve paved the way for the men and women coming behind me to know that they can get their pardon, that just because they wear the label of felon doesn’t mean that it has to stop them from accomplishing anything," Bear said.

Bear also runs four transitional homes for women in Claremore with her husband, Steve, who she met after her release. He said in a way, he’s grateful for her past.

"I think it’s our past that turns us into who we are for today, and if we hadn’t have gone through that, I don’t think we’d be what we are today, I don’t think we’d have the ministry we have today," Steve Bear said.

Bear said she's working with lawmakers on a bill that will automatically expunge someone’s record when they’re pardoned.