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In-Prison, Re-Entry, & Second Chance Programs

How This 38-Year Old Drug Dealer Found the Other Side of the Prison Bars and Now Helps Others Do The Same

6 min read

The Hate Factory

“My first prison term was two years. I went to prison for sales of drugs, transportation, and possession of loaded firearms,” said Durocher. “Then I got out for fifty-nine days until I got busted again for the same thing for five years. I got out after that prison term, got busted out again and did six years. I got out after that prison term and got busted again and did ten years.”

Like many others who reoffend, as soon as the 38-year-old walked off the lot, he returned to the only life he knew, a life of freedom, power, cash, sex, violence, and drug dealing.

“As we left the parking lot I reach under the seat and there’s a bag and it’s got all the dope, pipe, straws, everything you can imagine,” he said. “The minute I’d leave I’d go right back to the same lifestyle.”

Prison did very little to turn him around. On the contrary, it further cemented a mask of pride and power that covered any internal vulnerabilities.

“Prison’s a hate factory, especially in the state of California, because of the gang influence,” he said.Even-even the prison guards pit the races against each other, blacks, whites, Hispanics. It’s like high school with knives.”

After a high-speed chase that ended with an attempt to take his own life but instead resulted with his arrest, Durocher faced a 22-year sentence in prison.

Why Today’s Prisoner Rehabilitation Model Is Broken

Durocher’s past embodies the sobering rate of recidivism in America. Research from the National Institute of Justice states that within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.

Despite hundreds of re-entry programs addressing this problem, “they haven’t been working for decades,” says Durocher, “because they’ve been built on a funding model, not a helping model.”

“[The criminal justice system] keeps sending [convicted individuals] to thirty-, sixty-, and ninety-day programs,” said Durocher. “On day thirty, on day sixty, or on day ninety you have to leave. Well, what if the person’s not ready?”

“It doesn’t matter,” continues Durocher. “You have to leave. ‘But I’m not ready,’ they say, ‘I’m going to go back out there and use.’ It doesn’t matter, you have to leave. We are cycling this population through these places over and over and over again, which makes me question: are we doing more harm than we’re doing good?”

Durocher was in prison for a total of 23 years and he would’ve been in prison for another 22 years if it weren’t for an interview with one of the nations most effective residential habilitation and vocational training programs for prisoners called the Delancey Street Foundation.

The Example of Delancey Street

Founded 47 years ago in San Francisco by John Maher, a recovering addict, Delancey Street has helped over 20,000 people who would normally be in prison transform their lives by acquiring vocational skills, social responsibility, and value-creating jobs. The organization is recognized as one of the nation’s top five recidivism-reducing organizations in the country. Delancey Street’s self-funded model is centered on “empowering the people with the problems to become the solution.”

Delancey Street accepted Durocher in and he traded his fifth prison term for a two-year re-education. “I don’t know if you’ve ever felt vertigo when you get good news or bad news—you kind of feel dizzy,” said Durocher. “I couldn’t believe that I had heard [the judge] say he was letting me out of jail to go to a program.”

The journey at Delancey was difficult and at times excruciating—but Durocher grew in self-awareness and self-control and learned to be honest, especially with himself, and treat others with kindness and respect. He stayed for a total of eight years and eventually became the Managing Director of Delancey’s Los Angeles facility.

In 2015, he was approached to help start a new organization, inspired by Delancey’s model, called The Other Side Academy, in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he currently serves as the Managing Director of the staff.

In its first three years, 98% of The Other Side Academy graduates were employed, housed, crime free and drug free. In June of 2018, The Other Side Academy won the Social Entrepreneur category at Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 Utah region awards.

What worked to transform his life at Delancey, Derocher is now replicating at The Other Side Academy. Here’s how.

How Real Change Happens at The Other Side Academy

“What we don’t do at The Other Side Academy and what we didn’t do in DeLancey Street is sit around in an office and have a doctor, a therapist, or a clinician try to fix us. They didn’t break us,” explains Durocher. “We broke ourselves.”

Through its unique program, The Other Side Academy seeks to teach and instill three character qualities in its students:

  1. Integrity
  2. Accountability
  3. Care for Others

To accomplish this, The Other Side Academy leadership attributes three major differences in their model from other traditional programs that make it effective:

  1. Constant peer-to-peer feedback. This is the key to establishing a culture of accountability. “Our model is changing behavior because drug addicts inherently, all of them, one hundred percent of them, come in with the same traits: liars, cheats, thieves, manipulators, hedonistic, self-centered, self-seeking, and I could go on with some adjectives but we’ll leave those parts out. That’s our population. So in a therapeutic community, we have instant feedback in your face, sometimes a very colorful vernacular.”

“We don’t let anybody get away with anything. It’s a very structured, very strict culture,” said Durocher. “It is peer-driven with no excuses. We’re not going to allow your past to dictate your future.”

  1. A minimum two-year stay. As Durocher mentioned before, while other programs shuffle participants out to meet funding requirements and hit metrics, The Other Side Academy removes the pressure of time and quotas and works with students on their unique learning path until they’re ready. It takes time and intentional practice to break bad habits and tendencies of a previous life. In a committed, therapeutic community, the staff and students can focus on doing the right thing daily and building new, productive habits—without a rushing to meet a deadline.
  2. Address underlying behaviors that feed addictions and trigger bad behaviors. The key is not just focusing on sobriety and “getting clean” but rather helping an individual transform their very character from the inside out.

“We can get people clean and sober all day long,” said Durocher. “Just lock them up. That’s the easy part. Whole person change—that’s the hard part. It takes time. That’s why The Other Side Academy is a multi-year program with a minimum two-year requirement. However, on day 730 you don’t have to leave. We don’t need to fill that bed space for somebody else so that we can get funding. We don’t accept any money from outside sources. We generate all of it ourselves. That’s when the magic happens because then you get to leave when you know inherently in your belly you’re ready to reintegrate back into the community and become a productive member, not because day thirty, day sixty, day ninety or in our case day seven thirty has arrived. You can stay until you know you’re ready to go out there and live a value-centered life of integrity.”

Today, Durocher sits on the other side of the table, interviewing convicted criminals sitting in the same chair he sat in. Just like the interviewer before him, he knows what to look for, because he’s been there.

“I want to look into your eyes and see if there’s a flame in there,” he said. “Is there something we can stoke; is there a person inside there that’s just completely broken and ready to make the necessary changes and commit to something that’s going to be very difficult, not just someone who’s writing a letter because they want out of jail.”

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