Oakland Robber Goes From Scoundrel to Scholar

School of hard knocks graduate studies criminal science

By Cheryl Hurd
|  Wednesday, Oct 21, 2009  |  Updated 10:51 PM PDT
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Oakland Robber Goes From Scoundrel to Scholar

Darion Eastman

Darion Eastman said he turned his life around for his daughter, Samariah.

Once a crook, always a crook? 

A year and a half ago I was robbed as I worked in an NBC news truck. Three men opened the door and grabbed the computer from my hands.

Today I met a robber. And when I looked in his eyes, I didn't see fear, I saw hope.

That's because the man I met changed his life.

"I was out here doing numerous things, selling drugs, robbing people, just trying to get over any way that I can," Darion Eastman said.

Eastman, 28, was born and raised in East Oakland.

He didn't have an easy life, spending some time homeless. Many of his role models were crooks themselves. He did some time in the county jail for petty crimes.

But now he is the 150th graduate of San Francisco's Omega Boys Club program, a rehabilitation program founded by Joe Marshall in 1987 and based in San Francisco's rough-edged Dogpatch neighborhood.

Omega offers counseling, academic preparation, and scholarships for youth seeking to escape what it calls a "culture of violence." According to a 2008 report in the Potrero View, a local newspaper, only one graduate of the program has died from violent crime.

"It feels good to graduate from college," said Eastman. "Can you imagine a black man from the hood who didn't have the opportunity to get paid to go to college?"

Marshall says Eastman, who joined the program at the age of 20, wasn't an immediate fit.

"When he came he was a total skeptic about Omega Boys," said Marshall. "He was belligerent and that's probably the nicest word."

The club aims to show boys and girls there are opportunities other than a life of crime.

Eastman said his daughter, Samariah, 8, prompted him to seek a change.

"My daughter turned me around," said Eastman. "When she was born, I knew I was not only responsible for me, I was also responsible for her."

Eastman is a graduate of Tennessee State. His major?  No joke, criminal justice. Marshall wants him to become a cop. Eastman said no way.

Eastman's advice to others living a life of crime?

"It doesn't have to be that way.  What ever it is you want to do you can do it."

Marshall's program won a $100,000 grant from an Oprah Winfrey-backed charity in 2001. But it could use some more support. Omega Boys is planning a fundraiser for the program.  The gala will take place October 22 at San Francisco's Great America Music Hall. 

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