Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the fifth episode of "Therefore, what?" — a podcast from Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson. It's been edited for clarity.
Boyd Matheson: The criminal justice system of the United States is overburdened, understaffed and incredibly inefficient. Recidivism and a revolving door keep too many perpetually trapped in the system. Likewise, addiction rehab centers are bursting at the seams, often producing equally dismal results. Is there a better approach to changing behavior? What can be done? We explore non-government solutions with someone who was locked up in that broken prison system. Dave Durocher, managing director at The Other Side Academy, provides us with a look into innovative and revolutionary approaches to transforming criminals into contributing citizens. All this on this week's episode of "Therefore, what?"
I'm very excited to get into this week's conversation with Dave Durocher, managing director at The Other Side Academy. Dave, you've seen the criminal justice system, you've seen what goes on inside a prison and out. Give us a little bit of your back story as we begin today.
Dave Durocher: My back story began when I was very young. My criminal behavior actually began well before my drug addiction began. But ultimately, it landed me with many, many years of jail and prison. As I look back now, I can't explain why, for the most part, but I was the kind of kid that would steal mail out of people's mailboxes. I would break into people's vehicles, I would break into their houses at 6 or 7 years old, for no apparent reason. It's just who I was as a child. But unfortunately, I took those behaviors with me as I became an adult, and around 12 years old I was stealing alcohol out of my dad's alcohol bottle, replacing it with water. He'd come home from work and he’d want to drink, but he couldn't get drunk, couldn't figure out why. And guess what, I was and he wasn't. Didn't take long before he figured it out. My parents had those conversations with me, those crucial conversations, but I wasn't hearing it. I was smoking cigarettes, then I was smoking pot. And by the time I was 13 or 14, right in that time frame, I was doing cocaine. I did cocaine all the way through my high school years. I was the kind of kid that would go to class, open up my history book, I'd sit in the back, I pour the coke out of my little vial between the pages, pull my big pen apart, and I'd snort coke through class. I did that all the way through all four years of high school, or at least the last three and a half or so. And how I graduated is a mystery to me. I still don't know how today nor why, because I didn't do anything with it afterwards. Not long after I graduated high school, I found methamphetamine and I thought methamphetamine saved my life because it got me off of cocaine. Nothing was farther from the truth. With a different drug, the wheels completely fell off, and soon after that I started getting arrested, went to jail a number of times before I did my first prison term. When I went to prison for the first time, it was for two years. I got out of prison. I stayed out for 59 days, got busted again and went to prison for five years.
BM: Wow. So are those both drug-related, theft-related?
DD: Yeah, I was dealing drugs, running guns, running from the cops, assault on police officers. The last arrest, which I'll get to at some point, was really the ugliest. And I am lucky to be alive today after that last arrest. But it was a two-year prison term, then a five-year prison term, then a six-year prison term, then a 10-year prison term. So it was just term after term after term with very little time out in between. I had literally got to a point in my head that I was on that hedonic treadmill. I thought that prison was where I belonged. That's where I lived. It's where I felt comfortable. Things had gotten that bad for me. And the little vacations out weren't comfortable because I didn't know how to survive in society. I didn't know what to do. So I immediately went right back to the same thing that was sending me to prison to begin with.
BM: Wow. OK, so you're in and out. So, at this point, you've been behind bars for a total of …
DD: Sentenced to 22 years; 16, 17 years total.
BM: Behind bars, OK. And now you're back out for another vacation.
DD: For a little vacation, right. And it didn't last long. It didn't last long. I was dealing drugs again. There was a sting operation that I obviously wasn't aware of. I'd gone to a house in Huntington Beach, and while I was there, breaking up my methamphetamine and weighing it, getting ready to go deliver on my dope …
BM: Good business, right?
DD: Right, I was a good businessman. Make no mistake about it, Boyd. I was literally looking out the window, not unlike this one here, and I saw a helicopter really, really high in the sky. Normally they're hovering around the city. They're flying around. That wasn't the case. It was just sitting there, and you could barely see it. It was so high in the sky. And I was thinking to myself, that's odd. But I thought there's no way it was up there for me. An hour or two later, I was ready to go, and when I went outside that house in Huntington Beach and got in my car to take off, the cops were everywhere. They obviously didn't want to go inside the house because there was a woman and a child. They just waited for me to come out. And I had told myself on many other occasions that if I ever get red-lighted again and the cops were ever on me again, I wasn't going to stop because I knew when I got arrested again, I was going back to prison for the rest of my life. So I took him on a high-speed chase through Huntington Beach, hoping to get to a bridge with the water below and throw all the dope and everything out of the car. And I never made it. I got up to an intersection. There was a roadblock. I had a decision to make as to whether or not I was going stop or go through it. But I kept my word of course, and, you know, decided I was going to go ahead and go through that roadblock. I hunkered down, kind of hoping they would kill me. Because again, I know when I get busted again, it was two years, five years, six years, 10 years. This time I'm going away probably forever. And I went through that roadblock. When I made the left-hand turn, the cop did the pit maneuver, which is a pursuit intervention technique, spun me out of control and up on an embankment, and then the cops proceeded to pull me out of the car and give me one of the worst beatings I've ever had in my life.
BM: Wow. OK, so now they've taken you in. Now you're looking at another prison term of …
DD: 29 years.
BM: 29 years and then everything changed. What happened?
DD: It did. The initial offer was 29 years and I fought my case in the county jail pre-sentence for a long time, literally hoping to get it down to something manageable. Like 15, as I mentioned. If I could have got it down to 15, I wouldn't be sitting here today. I would have gone to prison and Lord knows where my life would have ended up. Yeah. But I wrote a place called Delancey Street. They came and they interviewed me, they accepted me, but the judge told me in no uncertain terms, Mr. Durocher, you are not Delancey Street material. You will never go to Delancey Street. So, naturally I go back to my cell and I'm completely dejected. I'm heartbroken, I'm like my God, what am I going to do? I'm literally going back to prison for the rest of my life. So I decided to write that judge a letter. I wrote him four pages front and back from my earliest memory till the day that I wrote that letter and never once did I tell him he was wrong in his assessment of me because he wasn't. But I said, Your Honor, what do you have to lose? Delancey Street interviewed me. They accepted me. They think they can help me. Two things can happen. You can send me there and you'll only see me for two reasons: when I come back to say thank you for giving me a shot or when I get kicked out and I split, you can lock me up for the rest of my life. What do you have to lose, Your Honor? Six weeks later, I went to court and I had no idea what to expect. I'm in ankle irons, waist irons, handcuffs. He said, "Mr. Durocher, against my better judgment, I'm going to give you the opportunity of a lifetime. You're going to plead guilty today to all of your charges." They had gone from 29 to 22. He said, "You plead guilty today to everything. When you get kicked out of Delancey Street or you split, I've got you for the rest of your life. Sign." I don't know if you've ever felt vertigo where you get good news or bad news and you kind of feel like you're dizzy, but I'm sitting in that cage thinking "Did I just hear him right? Two minutes ago, I was going to be in jail for the rest of my life and sometime tonight I'm getting released to go to a program." I could not believe it.
BM: Unbelievable. That's amazing. So, give us the setup for Delancey Street. It's been around for a while. An incredible model but a very different approach to criminal justice.
DD: Delancey Street is a two-year re-education facility primarily for longterm drug addicts, like myself, and long-term criminals — people who have spent their lives in and out of jails and prisons. A couple things really make it unique. Number one, it's two years long, minimum. Number two, they take no money from the city, county, federal government, state, no insurance money, no rich mommy and daddy money. If you get interviewed and you get accepted, it is free to the inmate or soon-to-be resident. And it's long, and it's hard. One of the things that really makes it unique is, you take this population that are drug addicts, long-term drug addicts, and you get there and you're not even allowed to talk about drugs. Because, truthfully, drugs aren't the problem. My behaviors were the problem. I can prove it because my criminal behavior started before my drug addiction, right? And what ends up happening as a drug addict through many years of addiction is you become a liar, a cheat, a thief, a manipulator, self-centered, self-seeking, amongst other things and other adjectives that I will leave out of this podcast. But that's what happens. And so when you get there, you don't talk about drugs as the problem. We focus on behaviors as the problem. It is very long, it's very honest — immediate feedback, peer driven, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. There wasn't a doctor, there wasn’t a counselor and there wasn't a therapist trying to fix me. After all, they didn't break me. It was up to me to fix me. Delancey Street gave me the opportunity to go someplace, a safe place, a sanctuary to learn to recalibrate my moral compass and become a decent human being.
BM: Fantastic. So, we're going to kind of jump ahead and jump back here a little bit as we move forward. So, you went through this Delancey Street model and now we'll dive into how you're applying it at The Other Side Academy here in Utah, because I think it's so important for people to recognize first that we tend to send people to prison and all we really do is teach them how to be better criminals for the most part. So, how do we start taking a different kind of approach? When you moved from Delancey Street and found this opportunity here with the Other Side Academy and Joseph Grenny, first tell me how that happened, and then let's start talking about the program itself and what you've established here in Utah.
DD: When I left Delancey Street, I got a fantastic job in Southern California in the construction trade. I was hauling heavy equipment, doing underground pipeline construction. Then I took a chance and went up to the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, and I was making completely stupid money up there. Here's a guy that had been out of the workforce since the 1980s making more money than he could climb over. And I have this affair with my checkbook, and it was wonderful for a while. But although I loved going to work every day, I hated my job. I missed the people part. I missed helping people. I missed the connection. So I came back to Southern California, and I started doing presentations around Southern California at different programs. And a friend of mine, Allen, who had gone through the program with me, was in the Dakotas with me in the oil fields and had recently gone back to New Mexico. He had a family emergency, and he was looking to get back into the people business. So one day I'm coming home from work and we're talking on the phone, and he says, "Dave, I have an interview. I'm going to go interview with this rehab place," although he didn't really want to do what he was going to do. I said, "Well, Alan, I'm looking for something here, too." We literally made a pinky promise over the phone from about 1,500 miles away, "if I find something I'll let you know, if you find something you let me know." A week later, I get a phone call from Charlotte Baker who had been in Delancey Street for 38 years. She was kind of my mentor in San Francisco while I was in Los Angeles. And she says, "Dave, there's a couple of gentlemen I'm going to meet this Friday in Salt Lake City named Joseph Grenny and Tim Stay." I'm like, "Who are they?" She says, "They're two guys, and they want to start a replication in Salt Lake City." And I chuckled over the phone, like "Really? Another one?" And she says, "Well, listen, I'm gonna go meet them Friday and have a conversation. If they're not crazy, is it something you'd be interested in?" I said, "No, not if they're not crazy. They've got to be if they’re gonna try to do this." Friday came, Friday went, and Saturday morning, she called me. She says, "Dave, I just met with them. They're dead serious. These guys are for real. Is this something you would like to do?" I said, "I would love to." She says, "You want to meet them?" I just said, "I'd love to. Of course I do." About a week later, Joseph Grenny and Tim Stay flew to Los Angeles, and we met at a restaurant, Flemings, at LA Live. And before the interview even started and we sat down I said, "First of all, who are you? What is the genesis of thought behind this? What makes you think you can? Who do you think you are? Tell me your story." And for about the next 30 minutes, Tim Stay and Joseph Grenny told me who they were. I knew immediately these guys are for real. There was no question at all. So, we spent a couple hours together. And at the end, they asked me a question. They said, "Are you willing to come to Salt Lake City?" I said, "I'll go to the moon if you don't quit in six months when it gets hard." And that's how we met.
BM: Wow, fantastic. So, now The Other Side Academy is up and rolling. I think as people think through how do we really change the behavior, how do we really get things moving forward … describe the approach at The Other Side Academy, because it's just such a contrast what we do, both in our prison system, but also even in just our 30-, 60-, 90-day recovery programs for addicts, that doesn't really change any behavior in the end.
DD: It doesn't. At The Other Side Academy we are real, we are in your face. It is immediate feedback, and it is peer driven. Just like Delancey Street, there's no doctors or therapists. So, we have the ability to approach the problem with a little different twist. It isn't a counselor trying to fix the patient. It is the student responsible for fixing themselves. And when something happens, or they do something wrong, because naturally, that's what we do, there's instant feedback, instant consequences, just like in real life. And we don't talk about drugs or anything else like you might in other programs. We talk about the behaviors. If there's three things that we're trying to teach you at The Other Side Academy, it's honesty, accountability and integrity. Truthfully, honesty and accountability — some of that is integrity. And if you've got integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don't, nothing else matters. So, you take a drug addict who’s become a complete liar, cheat, thief and manipulator, and you throw them in jail. He's clean and sober for a year. He gets out. What's the first thing he does? He goes to a … house. And nothing changes. Absolutely. We can get people clean and sober all day long. We can send them to 30-day and 60-day and 90-day programs until the cows fly. We’re spending billions and billions of dollars in this country every year funneling the same people through these programs.
BM: Yeah, I read recently that the cost to keep one person locked up for a year is the equivalent of sending them to Harvard. For just a year. And yet, as you said, we're not really changing anything. Much of what you're doing there at The Other Side Academy is really helping people develop these skills that they didn't get when they were growing up or when they were out on the street or when they were addicted or in a gang. So, what are the skills and how do you get people to get those skills that are going to allow them to re-enter society as a real contributing member?
DD: Well, first of all, here, the minute you get accepted and you get there, you go to work. Work is the petri dish — from the minute you get there, you become part of the solution, not part of the problem. You're not sitting around on a couch while some counselor’s trying to therapize you. That isn't what happens. You go to work every day. And you're expected to have a good attitude. But the behaviors that brought you there, it's like the petri dish, they're going to manifest themselves. And then when they do, we bring you home, and we bring you in the quorum. We have those crucial conversations and start addressing some of those behaviors. Then we have in the evenings, what we refer to as "games." Now, it's going to be hard to understand what that is, but it's a group of 20 people in a room with someone who's done something wrong, and you're getting immediate feedback from your peers. And when 19 other people are telling you what you did, odds are you did it. Well, that's on Tuesday night. But then Friday night, you go to a different game with a different set of peers. And they're also going to address your issues. Then the other 40 or so you haven't got to are the next Tuesday and the next Friday. So it's immediate, intentional feedback. It is a social dynamic unlike anything you've ever experienced, where everybody there is in everybody's business, addressing everybody's issues, real time. There's no lying, hiding and faking. You can't get away with it there.
BM: Wow. So, as you're developing those skills, as you said, work is the petri dish, which also allows you to be completely independent. You mentioned this earlier, that you don't take money from government and all the strings that go with it. You're not tied to an insurance company or insurance coverage. Explain why that's important. And then, how do you fund this? How do you make this thing work?
DD: Great question Boyd. Here's how we do it. Could you imagine you've heard my story, a guy that was a drug addict for 25 years, I'm in and out of prison for, you know, 20 plus years, or whatever it was, I go to a program 30, 60 or 90 days. I sit down. First question they ask me is, how much money do you have? Now the help I'm going to get is contingent upon how much money I have to give. What are the odds that a guy like me is going to be ready to reintegrate back into society on day 30, 60 or 90, regardless of how much money we have? These programs, for the most part, and some of them have merit don't get me wrong, it's just the success rate is so low. Yeah, 5 percent to 7 percent. They're based around funding. Every question is based around funding, you get your help based around funding. How much money do you have?
BM: What insurance do you have and how much cash do you have?
DD: Absolutely. And if you've got neither, guess what, you'll get no help. Yeah, at The Other Side Academy, if we interview you, and we accept you, it's free. And although we're a minimum two years, it's important to note that that’s 730 days, but that also means that on day 730, you're not necessarily ready. That just means day 730 came. This is a whole-person change approach. So you have as much time as you need. And on day 730, we don't tell the student, "well, you have to leave because we need the bed space for the next funder to pay for that next person." You stay until you've completely changed who you are. Until you become the 2.0 version of yourself. That could be at two years. It could be at three. It could be four. It could be five. I was at Delancey Street eight and a half years. I'm a slow learner. I'm a little behind the bell curve. I could have left sooner, but I loved what I was doing. But the point is, the programs today are based around funding. We're not; we're based around helping.
BM: Wow. And so you actually run a moving company and a thrift store. The moving company is the real driving force. Explain that for us just real quick.
DD: So, because we don't take any money from the government or insurance or rich mommy and daddy, we have our own vocational training schools or social enterprises that generate revenue. The students run and manage them. The moving company earns the lion's share of our revenue. We are the number one rated moving company in the state of Utah. We have a thrift boutique. We are the number one rated thrift store in Salt Lake City. We have a food truck. Those three generate the revenue, the moving company primarily. Then we have construction, food service, corporate development that are ancillary to those and supportive of those, but don't generate revenue, per se. So, the student has an opportunity to work on any one of those. But the beautiful thing is they are responsible for themselves, they have skin in the game. The money that we generate comes back into the facility so we can continue to help people without charging them a thin dime. Those who came before them generated the revenue that they're now getting the help from, and the revenue they're generating today is going to help those who don't even know they're coming yet.
BM: Yeah. Wow. And so, as they're doing that, that's providing the revenue for the organization. They're also learning time management skills, leadership skills, service skills.
DD: Absolutely. It's funny, I do presentations in jails and prisons all the time to inmates. And I always ask the question in groups of 100, maybe 200, right there standing in front of them, "Who in here knows how to work?" And all the hands go up and I tell them all, "You’re liars." And they look at me — remember, it's like 200 to one right now — "you're all liars." And I point one out and go, "What do you do for a living?" "Well, I’m a carpenter." "What are you building in your cell today?" "What do you do for living?" "Well, I'm a mechanic." "Changing a transmission in your cell today?" "And what do you do for a living?" So, I asked those questions. I say, "You guys, if you knew how to work, that's where you'd be. You don't know how to work. Because having a trade doesn't mean you know how to work, getting up every day, going to work, having a good attitude, going to break, coming back on time, so on and so forth. For hundreds, if not thousands of days in a row, is knowing how to work." Yeah, everybody in that room that I'm talking to, doesn't know how to work. They know how to get a job, but none of them know how to keep it.
BM: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's so interesting. I remember sitting in what I believe was a city council meeting, where you were looking to expand the facility there at The Other Side Academy. You were making the case and one of the council members raised the question of, "Wait a minute, you're telling me you have a bunch of people who've been in and out of prison, who can't behave properly in prison, and now you've got them in this facility with no counselors, no therapists, no security and they're all behaving properly? How do you possibly get them to do that?" And I'll never forget the founder Joseph Grenny, he didn't bat an eye. He just very simply said, "We asked them." You treat them differently.
DD: Yeah. And we asked them not to. A judge once asked me a couple years ago, "Mr. Durocher, you mean to tell me," as we were getting ready to launch in Salt Lake City, "I'm supposed to release my inmates to The Other Side Academy and the people that are sworn to kill each other in jail or prison are going to go there and live peacefully?" I said, "Yes, Your Honor." He says, "You mind telling me how?" I said, "Sure. We're gonna ask them not to." I said, "Your Honor, you think about it. When they're on the street or in jail or in prison they're asked to do the opposite. When was the last time this population was asked to do the right thing? We're going to ask them not to and then hold them accountable."
BM: Yeah, that's powerful. It's an amazing thing that you have going and you've had great success here in the state of Utah. I know you're looking at expanding other places across the country.
DD: That's correct. So, there's a number of cities that are vying for the number two spot — San Diego; Denver; Peoria, Illinois; Atlanta; Des Moines. Right now it looks like Denver and San Diego are neck and neck. If I were a betting man, I'd say Denver is probably going to get there first, but the whole country. As a matter of fact, we've got a cadre of people at our facility right now as we speak from Atlanta, the leadership team who are starting the process to bring the model there. And all the different cities have benchmarks they have to meet, money they've got to raise, properties they've got to find, zoning and licensing and issues they need to work out before we’ll come. But the entire country is looking at this model and they're all asking the same question. Where have you been and how soon can you get here? Because it's long. It's hard. It's real. And it works.
BM: Wow. And real skills development. Again, treating people to be their best self and then giving them the tools and the ability to actually live that way. Every single day. It's an exciting thing. It's one of the most dynamic places I've been and in terms of how you really change and evolve, I remember someone that was dealing with a tough crowd saying once that a leopard’s not going to change its spots. And the teacher without hesitation said, "That may be true, but I'm dealing with people, not leopards." And I think The Other Side Academy is proving that if we take a different approach to rehabilitating people it can be done.
DD: Absolutely, Boyd.
BM: All right. Well, wonderful. We've been talking with Dave Durocher from The Other Side Academy; theothersideacademy.com is a place to find out more. This is what should be happening all across the country, from federal to state to local level in terms of what we're doing. Dave, thanks for your great work. And we wish you all the best moving forward.
DD: Thank you, Boyd.
BM: So what are the takeaways from this conversation with Dave Durocher, managing director of The Other Side Academy? For me, there were many things that made me really think there simply has to be a better way. And I think The Other Side Academy may have found a better way to really deal with this revolving door in our criminal justice system, to really break people out of the cycles of addiction and crime, because they're approaching it in a way that is human. They aren't looking at these people as liabilities to be managed, which is often how we do it in the criminal justice system. They're just liabilities to be managed by taxpayer money. But instead of looking at these individuals as liabilities to be managed, they're looking at them as human beings with unlimited potential to be developed. And that's the difference. So, it's all skills-based training. And that's what really drives and changes behavior. I think it's also significant that, you know, as Dave was saying, that they are self-funding. That's also a significant thing. I remember listening to Joseph Grenny, the founder, one time, explaining that the real key to sustaining this kind of model was to make sure you never ever accept money from the government or from insurance companies, because it breaks the model. Because suddenly you're beholden to a whole host of regulatory regimes that will ultimately undermine it and turn you into a bed factory where you just are counting how many people do we have in, and how many people can we get next, and how is our funding sources going. So I love the fact that this is a self-sustaining model. In fact, if you ever want to have an extraordinary experience, go watch The Other Side Academy move somebody's home and their belongings and think about that for a minute here. Here you are, you've got these people who used to break through your window and steal your TV and go sell it on eBay or at a pawn shop, and now they're coming into your home with booties on their feet and they’re carefully wrapping up your TV and they’re safely moving you into your new home. It's an amazing thing. The conversations that they have in these moves as they coordinate and plan and work and challenge each other to do better and provide the best possible service and care are really inspiring. This is really a model that our government lawmakers need to look at. Because, again, what we're doing in the prison system is we're creating better criminals, and more hardened criminals, and criminals with all the things they need to go out and do it all over again. Or worse, we get them clean and sober. We send them out and where do they go? They've got nowhere to go, they have no skills. And so what do they do? They go back to the old neighborhood, and they fall into the old habits and the old patterns, which is why they end up right back where they started in prison. And so we have to have a different conversation about criminal justice in our society. How do we really get these people back into homes and neighborhoods and communities, both where they belong, and where they can add value? The Other Side Academy has a really incredible ability to get people back into real relationships. Because so much of what we see, and Dave talks about this a lot, it's really not an addiction problem, it's a disconnection problem. And as people become disconnected from real relationships, from meaningful interaction with people, that's when addiction really spirals and crime increases and they really develop contempt for all of humanity. When you have contempt, it's much easier to steal somebody's wallet or steal something out of their garage or their home. We have to look at that in a very different way. The last thing for me is we have to stop and really challenge the status quo. We can't make incremental improvement to the criminal justice system. We can't be satisfied with incremental improvement to our addiction programs. Quantum change is needed and necessary in this area. We have to do it differently. These people, the students at The Other Side Academy, they learn the principles that then they transform into behaviors, that they then turn into habits, that they then turn into lives that really matter and they can really maximize their potential and pursue their own dreams, their own goals, their own objectives. And that's where we have to get. Boyd K. Packer very wisely said that talking about principles, teaching principles, changes behavior better than talking about behavior changes behavior. And so when you are doing it by principle, and we see that at The Other Side Academy, that as they talk about these principles of honesty and integrity and hard work and accountability, things start to change because your self-worth changes and it improves. Then you have more confidence to try a little harder and do something a little different than you've done it in the past. We have a long, long way to go in this nation and around the world when it comes to criminal justice reform. And how do we help people who become trapped in these awful cycles of crime and addiction? It can be done, it has to be done. We need government leaders, we need community leaders, we need communities to come together to solve these problems in new and exciting ways. And it will be fun to watch as The Other Side Academy continues to spread across the country to see the results that they can produce in communities. 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