A headshot of Raymond AllisonNot so long ago, San Bernardino resident Raymond Allison, 52, was shunned by society due to his mile long criminal record. Donning long hair and a beard that passed his chest, he became addicted to any kind of drug he could get, and resorted to living under a bush on the streets of San Bernardino.

These days, however, Raymond Allison occasionally hobnobs with top dignitaries in his community.

"I spent my life in prison, I didn't know how to deal with a lot of stuff. Today I sit for lunch with mayors, the dean of the school district, the president of Valley College. I'm comfortable in that environment," he said.

It wasn't so much that he was raised in a particularly bad way, but he ended up there.

Growing up in upscale Orange County "with a bunch of trust fund babies" as he calls them, didn't give him much advantage when he veered in the opposite direction of his peers. Crime and drugs came early on.

Arrested for his first felony at age 11, he spent nearly two decades in the criminal justice system.

"I was destined to spend the rest of my life in prison and I was okay with it," he said.

This was until five years ago when suddenly, there was an opening. Raymond was offered visitation rights to his toddler son, whom he had not been previously allowed to see. It took him three years to come out from under that bush on the street. He cleaned up his act, and finally won his son back.

"Little Earl is why I do what I do. All those people that say you can't get clean for someone else, they're crazy," he said. "This little guy is my hero."

He's also stepped up his obligations, now working 32 hours a week while carrying a full course load. He interns at Salvation Army in drug counseling and has sole custody of his six-year-old.

As a student ambassador for San Bernardino College District, which includes Crafton Hills and San Bernardino Valley College, he regularly shares his own transformational experience as he goes out to recruit others to tap the kinds of services that helped him turn his life around.

He attributes much of his personal and professional growth to his probation officer, to San Bernardino Valley College, and three CalWORKs caseworkers in the office above the SBVC bookstore. They were all instrumental in guiding Raymond back to the real world.

"I've had a lot of help along the way," he said. "They were like angels, and I was not the easiest person. They got me a job in work study, which wasn't easy."

Working around some idiosyncrasies was the problem. He refused to conform. He still looked like he crawled out from under the bush.

"Nobody they sent me to would hire me because they all thought I would steal their tools," he said. "[CalWORKs] found a spot for me looking the way I looked."

Granted, his appearance has changed quite a bit over the years.  Today, he dresses for success and often hears comments that he should have a before and after marketing campaign with pictures as proof.

"I had hair halfway down my back, it was wild like a caveman. I don't look like I used to.  Today, I wear a tie and I have short hair," he laughs.

Raymond is a proud member of drug court, and by next May, he will receive his certified drug and alcohol counselor certification. In working public outreach with the San Bernardino Community College District, he said the experience has opened many new possibilities.

Solid employment options lie ahead. He has been offered a position at a county department as a parent advocate for people going through the type of struggles that he has overcome. He also has a potential counseling job, and yet another opportunity to join up as a professional outreach expert for college recruiting.