Other Side Academy Aims To Set Former Inmates Up For Success

Sep 4, 2019, 9:11 PM | Updated: Jul 16, 2023, 4:01 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – What happens after someone gets out of prison? All too often, they reoffend and go right back in. But a unique program in Utah is aiming to change that and set former inmates up for success – and it’s working.

An old house in Downtown Salt Lake, once known as the Armstrong Mansion, is where people come for a new chance at life.

People like Diego Cortez, Ashley Berriel and Matthew Sims. Each of them came from a different background, but all of them ended up in the same place.

“Can you even count the number of times you’ve been in and out of jail and prison?” KSL investigators asked.

“Prison once, in-and-out of jail 20 plus (times),” Sims said.

Sims knows what it’s like to live behind bars – he’s been doing it for much of his life.

“Age 13, got my first felony charge,” Sims said. “That’s kind of where it all started for me. I lied, I cheated, I manipulated all the way up until that point to kind of get what I wanted.”

That all changed when he found The Other Side Academy.

“I knew I needed something different,” he said. “I just didn’t know what that looked like.”

“The Other Side Academy is a two year, residential, life skills, retraining academy for people who have hit rock bottom,” said Joseph Grenny, one of The Other Side Academy’s founders.

They opened their doors in 2015 with one “student.” Now, they have close to a hundred.

“Our students have been arrested on average 25 times,” Grenny said.

The Other Side Academy is not a rehabilitation center. Instead, it teaches ex-cons how to be honest, how to be accountable and how to work hard.

“We have The Other Side Movers which is the number one moving company in the entire state, run by a bunch of felons, which is kind of remarkable,” Grenny said.

Another remarkable feature is The Other Side Academy is free. They feed, house and clothe students, and they can do it because of the revenue brought in by the students themselves.

“We’re working for a big family,” Cortez said. “We’ve got a big family to feed.”

That big family is growing every day. Grenny said they’re rapidly expanding because the program is working.

Four years after they opened their doors, they have 60 graduates. Ninety percent of them are housed and employed and Grenny said zero have been back to jail.  It’s a stark difference when almost half (43%) the people who leave jail or prison are known to reoffend.

“Do you think this is one of the best solutions out there right now in Utah?” KSL investigators asked.

“For the chronic offender, communities like this are the only real solution,” Grenny said.

The numbers show The Other Side’s success. But if you need more proof, look no further than the people whose lives are changed by it and the lives they’re hoping to change in the future.

“Coming to The Other Side Academy has showed me I’ve got different options,” Cortez said. “I can become someone.”

“I’m changing generations here,” Berriel said. “What was normal for me growing up, will not be normal for my kids growing up.”

“A few years ago I was on that side of the glass, feeling the way that you feel, hopeless and not knowing what to do,” Sims said. “Now I’m on this side of the glass trying to tell you that there’s a way.”

There are two ways to get into The Other Side Academy. You can walk in and be interviewed or the court can decide to let you serve out your sentence there. It’s a two-year commitment.


THE OTHER SIDE ACADEMY – The Other Side Academy is a training school in which students learn pro-social, vocational and life skills allowing them to emerge with a healthy life on “the other side.” This 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.  Many of those who seek entrance into the Academy are convicts, substance abusers or homeless.  This school accepts men and women, but pre-and post-sentencing, who are ready to learn a new and better way to live their lives.

RED BARN ACADEMY – The Red Barn Academy’s mission is to provide the most cost-effective, life-changing experience through hard work, discipline and integrity.  Red Barn Academy is modeled after other therapeutic communities such as The Other Side Academy, Delancey Street Foundation and The John Volken Academy. They focus on life from the farm perspective.  Animals, jobs and education are just a few elements that create real-life changes in order to be contributing members of society.

MENTOR WORKS PROGRAM – The Foundation for Family Life and the MentorWorks program assists addicts, alcoholics and ex-offenders through a relationship with trained mentors.  Together, they help develop a workable “Success Plan” for transition into mainstream society.

FIRST STEP HOUSE – First Step House is a dual-diagnosis enhanced, behavioral health treatment and housing provider. We have been a consistent leader in the Salt Lake metro area delivering evidence-based interventions and achieving positive outcomes for individuals who have chronic behavior health conditions, histories of homelessness, mental illness, criminal justice involvement and primary health concerns.

ODYSSEY HOUSE- The Odyssey House is a substance use recovery center. They work to help families recovery from drug abuse, mental health and physical health while with licensed professionals. The Odyssey House also helps individuals with poor work history, negative behaviors, physical illness, broken relationships, lack of housing, and incomplete education. They provide a wide range of services to teens, adults, mothers with children and fathers with children.

UDOWD – The Utah Defendant Offender Workforce Department works with AP&P agents to help offenders get back into the community and boost odds of job success. A job readiness class helps offenders find a job that suits their interest, improve interview skills and create resumes. The UDOWD also provides regional help for attending offender employment workshops.      

Other Options not directly related to transitional housing:

Golden Spike Outreach- Golden Spike Outreach Re-Entry Assistance Program is a one-on-one mentorship program provides support to those re-entering into the community. GSO works with individuals through the process of finding a job, a place to live and reconnecting with family and friends.

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Other Side Academy Aims To Set Former Inmates Up For Success