Whether or not Cole Richman imagined he would one day open up his own store on Melrose, Bottom Bunk Sneaker House, is left to be answered by the universe.
Richman has spent the majority of his life getting into trouble—whether it was inside the torturous walls of America’s seemingly endless penitentiaries, or during his time outside. He was convicted of various crimes, was battling addiction, and had grown into an angry person throughout the discourse that he had faced in life.
“Being sentenced to eight years at 27 years old, for me, felt like it was going to be the rest of my life,” Richman told Los Angeles magazine. “I felt hopeless, really lost, and also really angry, like, couldn’t believe that this was happening to me… like how could this happen to me? [He was] Upset at God, upset at my family, upset at everyone except for myself… and I was like that for basically, almost until I came home.”
Richman’s frustrations frequently landed him in “the hole,” a term popularly used to describe solitary confinement. After a yearlong stint there, he found himself back outside with other inmates. However, he wound up back in the hole after four days, a moment that ended up being crucial in the reclamation of his own life.
“I remember looking at the mirror [in solitary confinement] and having like this moment where I was like, ‘wow, like, I’m a year and a half away from going home, and I’m still finding myself going to jail in jail.’” Richman told Los Angeles magazine.
Richman described this moment as one where “the universe yells at us” and everything is “standing at a crossroads.” He said he had plenty of these moments in his life, about “100 other times” to quote him. But this time, when he was sitting in the hole with only a mirror and a small bed for company, he heard the call that the world had sent out for him.
“When I got out [May 2020], I was having a conversation with my rabbi… and I went immediately to a victim place like, you know, ‘I had so much going on before I went to jail,’” Richman said. “I wanted to put blame on other people, on addiction, and all these things. When truthfully, you know, now, I know that God put me in a really unique position to go through a lot of hardship, in order to be able to help other humans.”
After that conversation, in August 2020, Richman began to transform his life and repurpose the process he had learned before his time in prison while dealing drugs—something he described as shifting his “hustle into something more positive.”
“When you get released from prison, they gave you $200 On a prepaid card… and I literally hit my first pair of shoes [“Smoke Grey” Jordan 1’s that he smiled at the thought of] with that money that I was released with. I sold it, made a little bit more money, got another pair of shoes, and sold that for a little bit more money,” Richman described. “Right around this time they gave a stimulus check for people coming home from prison… and so I got that check and it was about $2,000. I put all that plus everything that I had made before that back into getting more shoes.”
As time went on and Richman continued to make more money from reselling shoes, he began to see how lucrative the business of footwear could be. However, he also found himself in the middle of a pandemic, which worked both for and against his prospects.
Richman began getting into the finer details of opening a store with his friend of almost 20 years, Yeshaia Blakeney.
He met Blakeney the first time he was released from prison around the age of 19 or 20. Blakeney was one of the counselors at the rehabilitation center Richman had gone to, and he quickly became his best friend and a mentor to him.
“As things kind of, like, picked up, the last thing that was on my radar was opening up a store… and the stars kind of aligned in the right way where I was trying to get a bigger name in the shoe space as I was getting more shoes. And so, my partner who was helping me financially [Blakeney] at the time was like ‘Yo, we should open up a shoe store,’” Richman said.
But Richman had one condition to opening up the store, and that was that if he and Blakeney were to put in the time to open the location, take on the overhead, and employ staff, they would have to also help people.
In November 2021, Richman opened the store on Melrose, Bottom Bunk Sneaker House—a name that alluded to all the years he had spent on the bottom bunk in his prison cell. The opening also came along with a plan to launch its own nonprofit, Off the Bunk, to help “formerly incarcerated brothers and sisters.”
In the design of the store, this idea is present in every aspect. From the blue and white paint job on the walls—representative of the sky he had spent years unable to see—to prison orange, oxygen lighting, and benches that are the same as the ones in prison yards.
The most important room, though, is one Richman titled the “Redemption Room.” It features an epoxy floor that looks like running water, to symbolize the freedom of movement, and a prison phone with a stool placed alongside it.
“The prison phone that’s in there with the prison stool… that’s where that’s really where my redemption started in prison. That’s how I communicated with my family, began to make the amends, began to reach out; like that’s where I re-found my human soul,” Richman expressed. “My purpose was started on that phone, I didn’t know what it was going to turn into. I made a lot of promises that I really meant at the time that I was going to do better on. We didn’t know how, but it all started there—the ideas of change started on the phone.”
As someone who has been on both sides of the long-discussed and debated American criminal justice system, Richman left many crucial notes to those frequenting the conversation.
“I think that there’s a lack of education for people when coming home to be able to have the resources or the tools in order to become successful… and I think that it goes even deeper than that,” Richman said. “I think that there’s a lot of opportunities that are lacking for people before they make it to prison… not every single person is afforded an opportunity before going to prison… you know, turning to the streets, that was probably the only door that was open for a lot of people.”
He also left a message for those who found themselves in the same shoes he had been in previously—often turning to crime and continually getting themselves locked up.
“The biggest thing I would say is that the universe has a plan for you. It’s just whether or not you’re going to recognize it,” Richman expressed to those individuals. “Like, what do you want your story to be that your family tells you when you leave? Like, is it like the story was he was a great guy who just couldn’t get out of prison? Or is it, he’s a great guy who went to prison and changed his life?”
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