“Come on, would you like a tour?” Dave Durocher asks as he swivels in his office chair and springs up, not unlike a coiled python, ready to roll.

We’ve been listening to Durocher tell his life story, which he can do in 30 minutes and still have time to spare, trying to get our heads around how he got all the way here from all the way there.

“I was a self-centered, hedonistic, gun-running, drug-dealing, out-of-control addict and criminal,” is how he sums up the first 38 years of his life. Now, at 56, he’s a law-abiding, drug-free, altruistic, tax-paying, sport coat-wearing, sober-as-a-nun executive director at The Other Side Academy, a place where felons are given the chance to take out a new lease on life.

Just like him. 

Ever since Joseph Grenny launched TOSA in downtown Salt Lake City eight years ago, Durocher has been the full-time on-site manager. His fingerprints are all over what has arguably become the most successful inmate residential rehabilitation facility America has ever seen.

Of the felons who are referred here instead of prison and stay at least two years, 74% wind up sober, crime-free and gainfully employed. For those who stay three years, the success rate is 85%; for four years or longer, it’s 95%.

This, from people who have been arrested an average of 25 times.

Equally remarkable, in eight years there have been no incidents of violence on the TOSA campus, no complaints from the neighbors, no petitions to shut the whole thing down. On the contrary. What began in one old building — the Armstrong mansion on the corner of 700 East and 100 South — has expanded into a complex of six buildings that house 105 students and serves as headquarters for TOSA’s various commercial enterprises, including The Other Side Movers, The Other Side Builders and The Other Side Thrift Boutiques.

The reformers have taken over.

There’s no better example that people can change, even violent criminals, than Durocher. “When I wasn’t in prison I was on my way back,” he says of the life/crime spree that began when he started stealing sips of his dad’s beer when he was 6 and lasted until his mid-30s, when he was surrounded by practically the entire Huntington Beach Police Department, including their helicopter.

Dave Durocher, executive director of The Other Side Academy, right, talks with Jordan Holdaway, general manager of Other Side Academy Builders, during renovation of the Armstrong Mansion in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The organization works with former prisoners hoping to rehabilitate their lives. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

He hoped they’d shoot him and get it over with, rather than facing another stay in prison, which would be his fifth and likely his last.

But Durocher still had his wits. As he languished in jail awaiting trial, he employed the charisma that made him such a good drug-dealer into an all-out lobbying campaign with the judge to instead of prison send him to Delancey Street, an alternative program designed to purge convicts of their addictions and straighten them out so they’re no longer a danger to society.

Long story short (for a more detailed, highly entertaining version, Google Durocher’s TED talk), the pitch worked. Durocher spent two years as a student at the Los Angeles branch of Delancey Street, graduated with flying colors, and then spent another 612 as resident manager.

He’d left the L.A. Delancey Street to work for a time making “stupid money” in the oil fields of North Dakota — legitimate money, the kind you have to pay taxes on — before returning to California because “I had a hole in my heart. I loved having a job, but anybody could do what I was doing, I wasn’t doing anything of any value. I missed the people part.”

That’s when he met Joseph Grenny, the Salt Lake corporate trainer, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist who told him his plans to do a version of Delancey Street in Utah, but one that would be self-sustaining, with no strings attached to the government or any other outside entities.

The Other Side Academy campus in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The organization works with former prisoners hoping to rehabilitate their lives. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Grenny and his No. 2, Tim Stay, flew to Los Angeles to interview Durocher. They met at a steakhouse, where Durocher began by interviewing them.

“They sat in front of me at Fleming’s and I said I don’t want either one of you to ask me a question. What’s the genesis of thought behind this, what makes you think you can, and why would you want to, who’s first?”

By this point, Grenny had already sized Durocher up. “My first impression of Dave was when I saw him sitting on a chair in the restaurant where we were to meet. He sat there ramrod straight, in a white shirt and tie, with that look of absolute confidence and commitment on his face. I had an immediate reaction that this was a good man and a born leader, so we never looked back.”

On the way back to their hotel, Grenny looked over at Stay and mused, “So do we do a background check? What if he’s lying about being a criminal; maybe he’s an accountant.”

Within days, Durocher was in Salt Lake, laying the foundation for a program that above all else values two things: 1) a no-nonsense compliance with the rules, and 2) time. Rehabilitation stints of 30, 60 or 90 days don’t come close to affecting permanent change. Give them 212 years, or more, and they’ll remake a man, or woman, out of you.

At the end of our interview, photographer Jeff Allred and I take Durocher up on his offer of a tour of The Other Side. As we move from building to building, he stops and introduces us to each student we pass, like a proud parent showing off his kids.

“I spent the first half of my life helping people die,” he says, 18 years down the road from that Huntington drug bust when he was ditching cocaine out the window. “I intend on spending the rest of it helping people live.”