Former ‘frequent flyer’ helps to reduce return trips to Utah County Jail
SPANISH FORK — It’s one of the greatest challenges facing the nation’s jails and prisons: keeping inmates on the ‘straight and narrow’ so they don’t wind up behind bars again.
The Utah County Jail has found success during the past year thanks to inspiration from an unlikely source, a man who lays claim to 13 mug shots.
James Childs spent close to seven years of his life, from 1992 to 2004, locked up for various ‘addiction-related’ crimes, like forgery and prescription fraud.
More than 13 years later, Childs, now a successful businessman and family man, has found his way back to the jail on the other side of the bars—as the director of a new program aimed at reducing recidivism.
“We’re teaching them that the change process must begin now,” said Childs, seated in the middle of an empty cell block. “We needed to find a way to bridge the gap between that release hallway, as we say in class. If you haven’t changed your life far before you get out to walk down that hallway to dress out, then the chances of you being able to implement things once you get out are slim.”
Even then, Childs knew more had to done once inmates were free.
That’s why the program—his own brainchild—includes after-care and mentors for the inmates once they are released into the outside world.
“They’re sort of at some of the lowest points in their lives. We think that makes them teachable,” Childs said. “Our work to bridge the two worlds of epiphanies that are created here in the jail and through the program, and how to hold them accountable and in touch with those epiphanies once they’re released is the real secret sauce.”
Utah County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Darin Durfey said local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped to provide manpower for the mentorship component.
“We feel that with love and care and compassion, we can help you connect with healthy people who are going to set the example for you and literally take you by the hand and help you walk that path toward a healthy life,” said Chris Raleigh, regional director of correctional services for the LDS Church, during a recent meeting at the jail. “I think if we concentrate on human connection, you’ll naturally move away from drugs.”
LDS Branch President Dee Bradford, also at the meeting, said he was grateful to be part of the ‘pioneering activity.’
“We have some very talented people that are willing to give a lot of their time to help and it’s exciting to see the success that comes from that,” Bradford said.
Hard Sell Pays Dividends
Durfey said it wasn’t initially an easy sell when the former frequent flyer came to him.
“When James approached me, yeah, there was a little bit of trepidation and hesitation and resistance to bringing him back,” Durfey said. “It was something we’d never done before, and so yeah, it was a little bit of a calculated risk or a gamble to bring somebody in we knew had been here.”
Childs, who now volunteers enough hours at the jail that his role there is essentially a full-time job, said his intentions were always pure to help others who found themselves in the circumstances he once found himself.
“I know the work that it takes to stand up in your life,” he said. “I want to help other people gain that same recipe for success, and that’s really at the core of it.”
Durfey said the program had already seen positive returns in its first year introduced into the jail’s female population, and was also being introduced to the jail’s male population.
Inmate Lisa Dupuy said she preferred the program over others she had previously tried behind bars.
“It’s all my free will, it’s me doing it,” Dupuy said at the January meeting. “If you guys believe in us, we definitely are going to start believing in us.”
“You all inspire us,” inmate Amber Kerlin added. “You all take time out of your day to be here for us. So to us, it makes us all feel human.”
Former inmates said the program continues to make a difference for them.
“They gave us some people we could call—like we could call them, we could call President Bradford instead of calling the same people,” Janelle Bryan said. “They helped me create a new family.”
“I call them my ‘ministering angels’ because they showed me that it’s possible to do something different with my life,” Jessica Chappel added. “They showed me the opposite of darkness, which is light, and they gave me that hope that I did not think I’d feel again.”
Durfey said success stories from the women, who have gone through the program so far, have been affirming.
“At the end of the day, the payment is the fact that we don’t have people coming back to jail, and if you can see people not return to jail, break that criminality—it’s a fantastic thing, makes it all worthwhile,” Durfey said.
Childs said long after all those mug shots, he’s simply happy to make a difference.
“Those pictures represent experience that in fact give me the full meaning and purpose to why I’m here today,” Childs said. “All I’m doing here is to try to inspire you to follow a few things and begin to believe that it’s possible for you to do it, too.”
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