Paul Sousa found himself Thursday night where he never thought he'd be: Sober, out of prison, telling a group of people about his "transformed" life - and thanking two police officers for their service.
Had anyone ever told the once-rebellious man with a "hatred" for authority that he'd do such a thing, he said, he would've told them, "You are high."
But on Thursday night, Sousa, who was celebrating his graduation from the Bishop Francis Quinn Cottages program, credited Sacramento police officers Mark Zoulas and Michael Cooper for being among the people who "saved me from myself."
Then the convicted felon with a new life handed a certificate to the two officers and embraced them.
Cooper and Zoulas (pictured left and right, respectively, in a 2007 Bee file photo), known by many as "Batman and Robin," were recognized at the graduation for their longtime work with Sacramento's homeless community. They were chosen to be award recipients by people graduating from the Quinn Cottages program, which helps once-homeless individuals find work, stable housing and sobriety, said Robert Tobin, president and chief executive officer of the umbrella Cottage Housing organization.
"Your compassionate professionalism brings a sense of safety, justice and civility to the streets of Sacramento and those living on them," reads a certificate given to the veteran officers.
The officers, in turn, lauded the program's graduates.
"You've become an example to us of what every human being can become," Zoulas told the crowd. "We need to double our efforts to find more housing and more programs" for the homeless, he said.
His longtime partner until recently, Cooper, said the recognition was an honor.
"If we've done anything to help people who come here ... then our careers have been successful," he said.
Zoulas is a 28-year veteran of the force and began working in the downtown area in January 2000. Cooper, a 19-year veteran, began working with Zoulas in 2003 but recently returned to patrol. While a team, the pair focused their efforts on the homeless community, separating what they refer to as "the sheep from the wolves" and working closely with advocacy groups.
The team has earned much praise from community groups over the years, and Zoulas said the recognition reminds them that their work can, and does, make a difference.
"It helps you take your job much more seriously, and try a little harder," he said. "It really does blow your mind to see how many people you've impacted."