According to representatives from the non-profit Foundation for Family Life — the organization that developed MentorWorks — the program will mentor men in the Moab area who have been jailed for substance-related offences.
Although the group plans to open a women’s house in Moab as well, the current MentorWorks house will support up to six men as well as a trained house manager.
MentorWorks will receive participant referrals from Utah Adult Probation and Parole, as well as local community organizations such as Four Corners Community Behavioral Health, the Moab Salvation Army Extension Unit, the Grand Homeless Coordinating Committee and various religious organizations.
Dr. Joseph White, executive director of the Foundation for Family Life, called the three-month MentorWorks program “rigorous.”
White said that in addition to living sober, participants must actively search for or maintain employment, do weekly community service, attend Alcoholics Anonymous and other related recovery programs, and create a recovery “success plan” for their short-term and long-term goals.
“There are a lot of things expected of them,” White said. “It’s a rigorous sober living home and program designed to help people who are serious about recovery.”
MentorWorks participants also pay $150 per week towards the program, as MentorWorks provides necessities including room, utilities, clothes, and food, White said.
Sara Melnicoff, who works with Moab’s homeless population through the Salvation Army Extension Unit, said addicted individuals who put some investment into their own recovery typically remain sober.
“The hard-core alcoholics don’t want to spend money on rent, utilities or food. They want to save it for alcohol or tobacco or drugs,” Melnicoff said. “I know someone’s getting healthy when they’re paying their own way — when they want to invest in themselves.”
Another essential ingredient to the program are the volunteer mentors, who will spend time with the participants doing activities and helping them plan for their life outside MentorWorks, White said.
“We’re looking for people who want to serve as mentors — someone who is simply a role model and an example of someone who can solve their problems without using drugs,” White said. “Somebody to be a listening ear.”
After struggling with and recovering from his own addiction, White was motivated to design a program that addresses the specific needs of incarcerated addicts. He calls MentorWorks a “great part” of his own recovery.
“So many people have told us that this program has saved their life,” he said. “For me, it’s a great part of my own recovery. Anyone in recovery or those who have never struggled with addiction issues are more than welcome to volunteer as a mentor, educator, or in whatever capacity they feel comfortable serving.”
Melnicoff said the mentoring aspect of the program can help substance abusers relate to someone outside their circle of addicts.
“The brotherhood of alcoholics is a very powerful force. They have a connection with each other and a loyalty. The sad part is, it’s loyalty to alcohol or substance abuse,” Melnicoff said. “It makes a huge difference to relate to someone outside the alcoholic’s circle.”
The Moab chapter will be the fifth MentorWorks home in Utah, and is expanding to southeastern Utah after providing services for five years on the Wasatch Front.
By addressing the issues of incarcerated addicts, White said MentorWorks aims to reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system.
“MentorWorks is not a detox center, it’s not a homeless shelter, it’s not a treatment center,” White said. “Our focus is primarily on providing aftercare support for individuals who are recovering from substance abuse and substance abuse-related offenses. Our primary goal is to reduce recidivism and relapse.”
Dr. Clifford Harman, Foundation for Family Life board chairman, said many substance abuse offenders move in and out of prison in a recurring cycle.
“Our prisons are largely populated by people with alcohol and drug addiction issues,” Harman said. “They engage in criminal activity to support themselves. [After jail] they go back to their associates and get back into the addiction issues. They are in and out of prison in a cycle.”
According to MentorWorks data, Salt Lake County Jail’s current one-year recidivism rate is 72 percent, meaning 72 per 100 inmates will be jailed again within a year.
For those who have participated in the three-month MentorWorks program, the recidivism rate is 17 percent, or 17 per 100 people jailed again within one year following incarceration.
Richard Laursen, southeastern Utah’s regional manager for Adult Probation and Parole, called those numbers “impressive.”
“It’s quite signficant. With the 17 percent recidivism — that population is closer to 80 percent recidivism,” Laursen said. “This program provides a way out for people who want some help to work on their sobriety, who don’t have a healthy environment to go to outside of the jail. It gets them transitioned back into their own place — it gives them an opportunity.”
Advocates of the MentorWorks program note that fostering a healthy and supportive environment for substance abusers coming out of jail will not only help them regain their lives but will also save taxpayers money.
Based on the program’s 17 percent recidivism rate and Salt Lake County Jail’s daily incarceration rate at $76 per inmate, White said that for every 100 people who might participate in MentorWorks, the county would save more than $1.5 million annually.
Karen Dolan, executive director of Four Corners Community Behavioral Health, added that channeling substance abusers into treatment will turn tax-users into taxpayers.
Dolan related the story of an individual she knew in college, who had substance abuse issues and was jailed for cocaine procession in the 1980s.
“He spent 20 years in jail at half a million dollars for taxpayers, never graduated, and didn’t have a career,” Dolan said. “He got out eight years ago. His life is so difficult now. That’s what happens to a lot of people who don’t get treatment. We need to channel people into treatment — have them become taxpayers instead of tax-users.”
By addressing those struggling with substance abuse and recidivism, the MentorWorks program will fill a missing piece in the Moab community, Melnicoff said.
“I think it is one of the missing pieces that we really desperately needed,” she said.
Laursen said the Moab program will serve locals, as any individual participating must have a connection to the area, either as a current or former resident or someone with family in the area.
“We’re not bringing in problems from outside the area. We want to take care of our local needs down there,” Laursen said.
Melnicoff listed the names of several Moab-based individuals who have since died because of substance abuse and said a program like MentorWorks might have helped save those lives.
“If they had had this [program] then, it could have made all the difference for them,” she said.
Additional information about MentorWorks is available at Foundation for Family Life’s website: foundationforfamilylife.com/mentorworks, or by calling 801-679-3921. The MentorWorks program also has a 24-hour help hotline: 801-923-3351.