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Millcreek Journal

The compounding growth of The Other Side Academy

Mar 11, 2020 01:22PM ● By Kirk Bradford

Beau Clark and Sierra Belka are two graduates of TOSA and current staff members. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

 At last month’s city council meeting, the mayor and City Council praised the Other Side Academy (TOSA) for its growth and continued progress. 

The Other Side Academy is avpublic non-profit organization where criminals, homeless, and substance abusers can change their lives, free of charge.

“I'm very impressed by TOSA," said Councilmember Cheri Jackson. "They are an independent organization that doesn't receive tax dollars. They get by on their own generated revenue. They even helped us move, and getting to know the students, some of the facts about them are astonishing... They said so far, they have provided 100,000-plus free nights of housing, food, clothing and training for the formerly incarcerated or homeless, and 85% of their graduates have remained employed and crime free at the end of 2019.”

The City Journals was invited to tour TOSA’s second newly opened thrift store. We met with two former TOSA graduates who are now working as staff. Beau Clark is a manager over their construction, moving and thrift store, and Sierra Belka handles marketing, social media and public relations. They explained the organization’s inception and day-to-day workings that bolster its success. 

In 2005, Dave Durocher was arrested in Huntington Beach, California and faced years in prison. Durocher had already served significant prison terms on four separate occasions, for two years, five years, six years and 10 years.  

Using and dealing drugs, Durocher led the police and a California helicopter on a chase until they “pit maneuvered” his vehicle. This is when an officer align their cruiser’s front bumper on a fleeing vehicle’s left or right rear end and apply enough pressure to cause the back end to lose traction and safely spin off the road.

Facing a 25-year sentence, Durocher said, “The streets are conducive to change. Jails aren't conducive to change, and prison isn't either. So where do you send someone who continues to return again and again?”

Lucky for Durocher, the California judge knew of a place, and said he was “going to allow Durocher the opportunity of a lifetime.” If he pled guilty to all crimes, he would be released to the Delancey Street Foundation, otherwise known as Delancey Street, in San Francisco. On one condition: if he was kicked out or didn’t graduate, he would be returned to prison to serve the two-decade sentence.

Delancey Street is named after New York City’s Delancey Street. The area was a settling place for immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. John Maher, a former member of a drug rehabilitation program called Synanon, founded the Delancey Street facility in 1971 along with three friends who all cleaned up together in treatment.

After completing the program which is still in operation today, Durocher continued to make good choices. He told the Delancey Foundation staff he had spent the first portion of his life hurting people and he wanted to spend the remaining years helping people. 

They coordinated a meeting between Durocher and Joseph Grenny, who is currently a four-time New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of VitalSmarts.

“After the three-hour dinner, the two men hit it off and a plan was formed," Clark said. (The complete history and arrangements between Utah legal officials, Delancy Street Foundation and the training of TOSA participants can be found on TOSA’s website.)

The design of TOSA has been described as “amazing” because it is a therapeutic community, yet it does not have any therapists, licensed substance abuse counselors or any type of security. When co-founder Durocher was negotiating the release of inmates into the academy, the judge had a question that many people were concerned about.  

“You are going to put gang members, thieves and drug dealers all in one house together, men who have sworn to kill each other on sight in prison because of gang affiliation. How are you going to stop that?”

Durocher told the judge, “We will simply ask them not to do it, Your Honor. When was the last time someone politely asked them?”

Clark and Belka reiterated that point. “To this date, we have not had one single act of violence take place at any of our homes. The process is set up with complete accountability to each other as opposed to a certain rule or authority figure.” It is also what makes the entire academy work differently than other types of traditional treatment.

When someone wants admittance to the academy, they must write a letter stating why they want in and their motivation for making a change. Many of the letters come from people getting ready to see a judge or the parole board, or people coming to the end of their incarceration sentence. 

Once they have written the letter, a staff member from the facility will set up either an interview on-site or travel to the facility the person is housed in and formally interview and screen them. It’s an intensive interview to gauge whether they feel they can help that person but also ensure they will fit in with the current group. 

“Once someone is admitted to the home, they meet with a panel of peers. Usually three people who have been in the program at lengths of eight months to a year, 18 months to two years and another who has multiple years,” Belka said.

“This allows a broader spectrum to have eyes on the new person and teaches the newer members the process of connecting,” Clark explained. “What we always say is our primary goal is not to graduate students who just don’t use anymore, what our interest is to graduate men and women of the highest caliber of integrity, of selflessness, of honor and honesty of character because that way they are so far removed from any reality of participating in things that are harmful to themselves or others that it’s not just, ‘I don’t want you to use heroin anymore,’ it’s that I want you to be a decent human being that everyone can depend on, people at your job like you, your family trusts you — that is the underlying goal over time.” 

The time frame for graduation is 30 months. The first 21 months is the structured part where students adjust to living at one of their homes and learn the rules and 12 philosophies:

  1. You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone
  2. Make and keep promises
  3. Self-reliance — there is no free lunch
  4. Impeccable honesty
  5. Act “as if”
  6. Embrace humility
  7. Each one teach one
  8. 200% accountability
  9. Forgiveness
  10. Boundaries
  11. Faith friendly
  12. Pride in work 

They are assigned a location to work at depending on TOSA’s needs and the skills of the individual. All money goes to the TOSA fund and pays for rent, food, clothing and other needs. 

The rules include no cell phones, no sexual contact between members and no sexual misconduct, and many of the other basic rules found in a therapeutic community. They hold each other accountable for everything from being honest to being selfless. 

The tougher rules for many people are the separation from family and friends. After 30 days of successful participation, a student may be able to write to and receive letters from one approved family member. All correspondence is monitored. 

After three months, students may place a 15-minute phone call once a month. After one year, an on-site monitored visit from up to four family members monthly. After 15 months, they may see their children on Kids Day, which is the last Sunday of every month. After 18 months, communication with a spouse (or significant other) is approved.

TOSA has a moving company, construction services, crews that pick up donated goods and the two thrift stores. They also do free on-site pick-up for any items you would like to donate. From month 21 to 30, individuals can find outside work and save money while living at TOSA rent free.

Starting with two dozen male students, TOSA has quickly grown to 107 male and 20 female students. In 2019, just two and half years into the organization’s inception, their 990 tax form listed their total revenue for the year at $11,360,438. It’s rare for a business to achieve over $10 million in its first few years, but it’s unheard of when the business doesn’t receive any type of state or federal financial assistance. 

Tim Stay, TOSA’s chief executive officer, said its revenue is made up of donations and program service revenue. “Program revenue is generated from our social enterprises, the Other Side Movers and the Other Side Thrift Boutique.”

The biggest jump of revenue came in 2019. TOSA received $1.8 million in donations in 2018, and then $8.5 million in 2019. Stay said, “As we continue to generate profit from our social enterprises in coming years, we will pour that excess capital into expanding our facilities in additional cities. With the $8.5 million in donations, we purchased an apartment building for $2.5 million across from our campus in Salt Lake that we are using for student housing. We purchased the Avenues Courtyard Senior Living Center for $4.2 million that will allow us to house up to 160 students at that facility, which is also located in Salt Lake. And we purchased a large facility in Denver for $2.4 million. Almost all of that donated money went to expand our capacity to house more students by purchasing housing facilities so we can help more people get out of the jails of Utah and off the streets of Salt Lake and Denver.”