David Durocher is the executive director of The Other Side Academy—a residential rehabilitation program based in Salt Lake City. His road to this career he loves has been brutal and jagged; it has also been rewarding, joyful, and worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears.
“I was a self-centered, heathenistic, gun-running, drug-dealing, out-of-control drug addict and criminal for nearly 25 years,” he says. “By the time I was 38, I had done 4 consecutive prison terms totaling almost 20 years. When I wasn’t in prison, I was on my way back.”
It was on one of those roads back that Durocher made a decision that would transform his life.
“I was looking at a 22-year prison term, my fifth, and that was really humbling. I’d spent the majority of my adult life in there, and now I was going to die in there,” he recalls. “I was scared, broken, and I just needed to do something different. I heard of Delancey Street, and I wrote them. But I didn’t write them to change. I wrote them because it was my only hope of getting out from underneath the prison sentence.”
Delancey Street is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that offers residential rehabilitation services to substance abusers, ex-convicts, and others. The goal of Delancey Street is to help people “learn to lead a productive, crime-free, drug-free life of purpose and integrity.” Where most rehab programs are 30, 60, or 90 days long, Delancey Street’s model is 2 years or longer. Durocher didn’t care—2 years was better than 22. His intention was to only do the bare minimum, but something happened along the way that he did not expect.
“Because [the program] is so long, because it’s behavior modification and not some doctor or therapist sitting around all day telling me what I need to change and what I’m doing wrong when I already know those things, [because] it was my peers blasting me for my behaviors until I changed those, I learned how to be an honest, accountable, contributing member of the community living a value-centered life of integrity,” Durocher explains.
Durocher would stay at Delancey Street for eight and a half years, but not all of them were as a student. After three and a half years, he knew that he was ready to reintegrate into the community. But he was given an opportunity of a lifetime, and he took it.
“The last five years I was in Delancey Street, I actually managed the LA facility. I was what they called the facilitator or the managing director, and I oversaw all 15 vocational training schools—all 200 residents,” says Durocher. “I managed the entire facility, and I did it for free. I was honored that [they] would ask me. I thought about my life prior to what I was doing and how much I loved what I was doing there [at Delancey Street], helping people get from where I once was to where I was at, and I said, ‘Absolutely, I’ll stay.’”
The Other Side Academy
Once Durocher started helping others, he never stopped. Flash forward to 2015 and the opening of The Other Side Academy (TOSA), and we find him, along with numerous others, helping the most lost among us. Based off the same model as Delancey Street, The Other Side Academy is a two-and-a-half year residential training academy for substance abusers, convicts, the homeless, and those who have hit rock-bottom and need help.
“The program is available as an alternative to those facing long-term incarceration as well as those seeking a change from the life they’ve chosen in the past,” Durocher explains. The mission is “to create a therapeutic community available across the world, to all who need it.”
And when they say “all,” they mean all. It is a goal of TOSA to never have to turn away someone who is fighting for their life. So, what makes TOSA’s rehabilitation program so unique? Three words: time, peers, cost.
The Other Side Academy is 100 percent self-sufficient, meaning that the student doesn’t pay a dime—unlike the typical 30-, 60-, and 90-day rehab programs where often “the amount of help you get . . . is determined by how much money you have,” says Durocher.
The Other Side Academy is all about helping to change behavior. In Durocher’s words, “Drug addicts are liars, cheaters, thieves, manipulators, self-centered, self-seeking, human beings that don’t care about anybody. Who cares if they get clean and sober if they haven’t completely changed? If they’re clean and sober, but they leave the program and they are still sneaky, they’re still liars, and they are still living like a drug addict, then they’re going to use again.”
Research shows that the 30-, 60-, or 90-day models have a 3 to 5 percent success rate. The Other Side Academy’s model is long and difficult, but those who complete their two-and-a-half-year stay have an 82 percent success rate of being drug free, crime free, and employed. After three years, that success rate jumps to 91 percent.
“The further you get that lifestyle behind you, the harder it is to go back because you’ve learned to live a new life,” Durocher says.
The Road to Recovery
So, how does the program work?
“You write us a letter from the county jail. We interview you, and we accept you. You get a letter of acceptance, and you take it to the judge. The judge can then sentence you to TOSA, but only if we’ve interviewed you. Or you can walk through the front door, take a seat on our bench, and ask for an interview,” Durocher explains. “We’ll interview you right then, and if we accept you, you need nothing.”
TOSA provides everything from clothing and food to housing and employment. Students live on the property in dorms, similar to a university setting. They also move through the ranks of freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. After completing the initial two-and-a-half years, students can choose to leave or stay as long as they need. This is possible because TOSA is self-sufficient—they don’t take any money from the city, county, state, or federal government. They don’t take money from Medicaid or insurance companies either.
Why is that important?
“Because as soon as a student comes to us, whether it’s out of jail or off the streets, they’re responsible for generating a revenue,” Durocher explains. “They’re responsible for their own recovery.”
TOSA has social enterprises that generate the revenue needed to run the program. They have a moving company, thrift store, storage company, and construction company. During the first few months at TOSA, freshmen will live in-house and work by cooking and cleaning. Once staff gets to know them better, they are assigned a job working for one of TOSA’s companies. As students continue to grow and become their better selves, they are given more responsibilities such as mentoring others in the program or becoming a staff member in training. After completing the program, they might even be hired on as staff.
While in the program, students do not receive a paycheck for their work. However, it is important to note that TOSA works with several businesses like Sweets Candy, Hughes General Contractors, and several others so that upon graduation, every single graduate is placed into a full-time job. These are jobs that pay a good living wage and offer health and retirement benefits. Graduates can also opt to work as paid staff for TOSA while continuing to live on the property, where they receive reduced rent and low-cost meals, and, of course, the camaraderie of The Other Side Academy community. This community of peers is at the heart of the program and has the most profound influence on every person who walks through TOSA’s doors.
Community and Connection
Tori, a former student and current staff member, has learned firsthand why this model changes lives.
“When you come to TOSA, we put you in real-life situations. Everybody has a job from eight to five, and everybody is working on taking accountability and holding others accountable for their behavior. While you’re working, these behaviors come out, and your peers call you on it.”
She continues, “So, say Jane is [being] negative today. I would say, ‘Jane, they asked us to have a positive attitude.’ Her response can only be, ‘Okay,’ because [at TOSA] there’s no conflict allowed on the floor whatsoever.”
Tori says that twice a week, students go into a “game setting” with about 23 of their peers. It is in this setting that they hold each other accountable. “At that time, I would put the game on Jane, and I would say, ‘Jane you had a bad attitude the other day. You made it hard to work. I don’t know why you’re so negative when you came here to be somebody different. Don’t you want to change that?’” she explains. “So, I would address her behavior in that game setting, and then somebody else would chime in with, ‘Jane, I noticed that you lied the other day.’ As we address the behavior in that game setting, Jane can either sit back and say, ‘Okay, I’m here to change. I’m being humble. I’m going to take accountability for this, and I’m going to fix it.’ Or she can say, ‘You’re wrong. That isn’t who I am.’”
But what if there is a disagreement about the comments? “Then we’d get mentorship, and we’d get guidance on that, and we would say ‘From the feedback in the game setting and talking with your peers and your mentors, Jane, you are like that. Let’s work through that. Let’s help you through this because this is what your peers are seeing,’” says Tori.
It’s not always easy to be positive, even in the best of circumstances, but TOSA students are taught to try to make the best of each situation. “We have a belief called ‘act as if’—act as if you’re happy until it becomes you. You put that smile on and you get through your workday, and I’m telling you that it makes you a better person in the end. That change of behavior—thinking and acting differently—helps you teach the next person coming in,” says Tori.
“You can say, ‘Hey, I’ve been through this. I know what you’re going through. I know what it’s like to have a bad attitude every day. Let me show you how I got through it.’ That’s where the mentorship comes in. That’s how we address behavior and get people to change.”
There are no doctors, clinicians, or therapists who work at TOSA. Everybody who works at The Other Side Academy is an ex-criminal or ex-drug addict or somebody who has been homeless and just gotten their life together. This is by design.
“It is called experiential overlap, and the reason it works is because you are being mentored and held accountable by peers—peers who can connect with you on a visceral level, heart to heart, human to human,” says Durocher.
It is the visceral connection that inspires people to fix themselves. It is the heart to heart that enables those who are lost to be found. It is the human to human that helps students to “reinvent themselves and become somebody they have never known.” It is the combination that makes The Other Side Academy so unique and so successful. For Durocher, TOSA represents the culmination of a life changed and the beginning of a wonderful life journey helping others.
“I spent the first half of my life helping people to die,” he says. “I intend to spend the rest of it helping them to live.”
Visit theothersideacademy.org to learn more.
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