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Public Safety

Alpha Project's Casa Raphael Is Changing Lives And The Community

Casa Raphael Residential Treatment

Two former San Diego gang members who grew up in the same neighborhood are now trying to turn their lives around. They're residents of the county's largest state licensed alcohol and drug treatment facility run by the Alpha Project.

"I feel really good, I feel great today, God is really truly good, because inside of me I know who I am today. I love me, said former gang member Johnny Coulter.

You can see and feel how the time spent at Casa Raphael has changed his life. Coulter spent half his 46 years in prison for gang banging southeast of downtown San Diego.


"People can't see what's inside of you. When you're done your done. If you're not, then you can keep on doing the same old things and expecting different results which is still insanity," he said. Coulter has gone from strong arm robber and enforcer to peace maker and counselor. His biggest regret: the loss of time. "If I could press the reset button I would not be missing all these years. I would be somewhere with my family, my children."

Casa Raphael is a three-step residential rehabilitation program in Vista. It takes 9 to 12 months to complete. Alpha Project's Bob McElroy said more than 80 percent of the graduates remain clean and sober three years after leaving the program.

"They get a whole perspective on reading back and seeing where their stinking thinking was and how their thinking today." McElroy said before Casa Raphael took up residence in this renovated motel, it was known as "tweeker hill," where crystal meth and criminal activity was all too common.

"So the city was so fed up with it, they asked us if we'd locate our treatment facility here," McElroy said.

Former gang member Rickey Cervantes is in his third month of sobriety. He now wants to be a role model for the young guys in his Logan Heights neighborhood. "I have a lot of kids from my neighborhood that I call my sons. That I carry under my wing, a lot of them are dead. I regret sometimes that I should of picked them up, took them home, you know. It still hurts, but I love those kids, you know what I mean."

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