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COOPS Weekly - Life from Kansas #34

Updated: Jan 11

I heard this story the other day and I want to share it.

This is truly amazing.

On the corner of 700 East and 100 South in Salt Lake City sits a 3-story red Victorian mansion built in 1892. When it was first built it boasted the cities first indoor plumbing. Today something far more innovative resides in this building. It is now home to the OTHER SIDE ACADEMY (TOSA). 120 men and women inhabit this residence.

Why is this interesting??? Each of the people have been arrested an average of 25 times. In most cases they have been running and gunning in crime, addiction, and homelessness for years even decades. Most of the students stay for 2 to 4 years as an alternative to prison or a jail sentence. There are NO PROFESSIONALS at therapists, counselors, guards...nothing but a family of peers who have to find a way to be self-reliant. No one pays to come to TOSA. TOSA receives no tuition, insurance reimbursement, or funding from the government. Instead, the students run world class businesses in order to generate income and to help them learn new habits of living and working with others.

When students arrive, they behave in ways that are impulsive, lazy, selfish, defensive and dishonest. And yet every year since 2015, TOSA businesses have been the top rated in their class. The OTHER SIDE movers is a top-rated company in UTAH. How does this happen? How can deeply/insecure broken people come to work harmoniously together to accomplish results that would be the envy of the finest companies on the planet?

The Answer –

Constructive (even Brutal) feedback. Tough Discussions that make you not only think but re-evaluate. Every Tuesday and Friday the students gather to play what are called "TOSA games." TOSA games are intense and challenging. People sit in groups of 20 and give each other unvarnished feedback. The fundamental belief is that relentless exposure to the truth is the best path to empathy, growth and happiness.

We all can learn a lesson from this. Take feedback whenever you can. Learning to let other people say what they want to say, how they want to say it is liberating for everyone. When we stop blaming the world for how we feel and become more responsible for our actions we feel a serenity like no other.

Craziest thing I have heard/seen at Leavenworth Camp this week.

We have a recreation department run by inmates (they handle the games around the compound). When the weekend arrives plenty of the kids come to visit their dads. So, the Rec department puts out balls (soccer, football, etc.) for the kids to play while they visit. Obviously keeping kids entertained during an inmate visit can be challenging. Dads play catch or kick the ball around with their little ones, its actually pretty adorable. For reasons unknown to of the weekend guards simply isn’t having it.... he takes the balls and throws them on the roof.... or kicks them on the razor wire fence that surrounds the compound (You can see balls stuck on the fence from time to time) .... WOW...I MEAN WOW...THAT IS COLD. The rec department keeps putting out balls and the guard keeps taking or kicking them away.

Number #1 question asked. What are your friends like in there?

Who are the people that make the biggest difference for me at Leavenworth Camp? So, let’s talk about those people. Each of these people have a profound effect on me and the RDAP community (Actually the entire LPC camp). They make this place run.

In RDAP we have what are called "accountability partners." Accountability partners are people you rely on in treatment to keep you on track (hold you accountable). I have three.

The first is Jones....I have mentioned Jones on a few occasions. He remains in my opinion the funniest person at this camp. He is always cracking me up. He reminds me of my little sis Sparger. He is fearless and scary smart.

I have been in awe of the discipline he has shown in losing close to 100lbs. He looks amazing. His potential is limitless. But most of all I love his energy (I love my young buddies...They inspire me). Jones is my accountability partner for the RDAP program (I am his). We keep each other in check, study together...anything RDAP related.

My second accountability partner is Mike Hinton. Mike is my workout accountability partner. In my time on this planet (and that is 47 years for those keeping score) I have never seen a man workout like Mr. Hinton. WOW. I think I lost weight just watching him. I asked Mike to hold me accountable because he terrifies me in a good way. If he tells me to do something I'm gonna do it. I need that in my life. If I’m being honest, I don’t listen to many people. Mike has spent a good amount of time in prisons. His experience is fascinating. It took me months to get him to even talk to me. But now we have some of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had (about everything from work/life to our experience with drugs). What drugs have done to both our lives are brutal. His work ethic coupled with his people skills has me absolutely convinced he will find success in whatever he decides to pursue.

My last accountability partner is everyone's favorite... Mr. Goetz (he reminds me of Suren in so many ways, just less tan). I always thought I was private person (Prison showed me how private I really am). Goetz is the only person I talk to about everything. Without question he has my back about anything. He makes this place bearable. It is hard to explain a person like Phil. He is the very epitome of a good friend. If there was award for true empathy Mr. Goetz would have it. I might live another 50 lifetimes without meeting a person his equal.

The rest of the best. Starting with the youngest.

Everyone on the outside knows that one of my true joys is mentoring others. I love the energy of youth. Their ability to grow and change into anything they want. I have two (actually 3...Jones being the 3rd) that I think are super special.

The first is the "new guy," (Mr. Lang). This guy impressed me bigtime from day one. I don't think I have seen this guy sit still for a single second. His energy is contagious.... but what impresses me most about him is how easily he worked himself into the unit. While it took me months to make my took Lang days. Everybody loves the kid. He is smart, athletic, and knows he can use this time to make himself better. I have him reading some of my favorite books and he is absolutely crushing it. He is in here for selling acid (WHAT???? that is a bit bizarre) ...He has all the potential in the world.... I have high expectations.

The second is one of my favorite people in all of RDAP. His name is Mr. Freeman (also known as "Grasshopper"...Great nickname). This kid knows his strengths and weaknesses and is WORKING SO HARD to make himself the best version of himself. I must admit I am a bit jealous of him. He knows exactly what he wants to do.... He wants to be a chef (or as he says..."change the way people eat.".... How cool is that???). Not only is he working to make himself better...he is also working on perfecting his craft. He doing his best making whatever he can from our limited commissary. So much potential. He is one of the few people I will do whatever I can to help him achieve his dream. He is also on the Carper reading plan.

Continuing on Mr. Tirado. My paisa connection. ALSO, he is another LA brother (he is from Santa Monica). You might remember the story about a friend who fell and broke his leg on the ice. This is Tirado. For those who are worried he is getting better. The first time I noticed Mr. Tirado I was blown away at the tough candid/honesty he was giving in a sensitive conversation. He told Jones some things that Jones did not want to hear. I remember thinking he better be careful...but that's not the way Tirado thinks.... He is going to shoot you straight. It is hard not admire him for that. He gives stellar advice and somehow might be a nicer guy than I am. I trusted him from day one (but then again, he earns that trust with the type of person he is). I'm not sure he believes me but I consider him one of my closest friends. He will be going home after RDAP.

Mr. Bennett. Wow. Talk about a guy who blows you away the minute he speaks. Bennett is an imposing figure (6'3 Black guy at least - 280lbs, Strong as can be). I'm not sure I have ever met a more charismatic, articulate human being. I could listen to this guy read a phone book. There are so many differences between the life I led and the life Mr. Bennett leads...yet we still have so much in common. Recently I watched him guess every single song in a trivia contest we had for our RDAP Upbeat Ritual (the one where I sang because I didn’t want to). The judge tried to fool him asking additional questions that nobody should know (Year, album, Origin City, etc.) He literally stunned all of RDAP nailing every detail. We went head-to-head on a spelling contest and I must admit I was in awe. Everyone knows how smart I think I am (so you know it kills me to write this....) Not only is one of the smartest, most impressive people I have ever met.... he might be smarter than me... (Lets focus on "might be"? HA).

Mr. Fernandez. Another towering individual (6'3'...and most likely the fastest guy I know...any white guy that ran a 4.3) ...He reminds me of the prom king/ all star athlete blended into one. He looks the part of that guy we all know. But there is so much more to him. He is as charismatic as gets. He was one of the first leaders I looked up to here in RDAP. When he speaks, everyone listens. It is funny I haven't spent that much time with Hernandez however he has made a big impression. He graduated RDAP last class, yet everyone still looks up to him as a leader.

Mr. Newling. Another Los Angeles RDAP transfer (actually he lived pretty much down the street in Hermosa Beach, CA). Jason is a very private person (and one of 3 people who I am fairly certain are in prison because other people screwed them over). I’m not saying he has lived a perfect life (definitely an interesting one) me he is in RDAP for reasons relating to addiction. But he owns and discusses that fact with 100% honesty. I am not sure we would have become as close had we not been in quarantine (We literally shared our life stories while we were stuck in the unit for weeks). The way he approaches everything from business to pickleball comes with this creative logic that I find completely fascinating. I’m not at all surprised he is as successful as he is. The conversations I have had with him are by far the most interesting ones I have had here.

Mr. Gardner. When I first met Mr. Gardner, I thought this guy is as intimating as it gets. He is the very definition of someone that will outwork you in whatever area is in question. Mr. Gardner is the RDAP chairman of CORE (what I consider to be the highest honor in RDAP...He is our leader). He is the first person who convinced me to stop coasting and start being more of a leader in RDAP. He also is one of the few people that will call you on your BS (including me). He has been a big influence to lots of inmates here. I think he will find success outside by not only outworking others but being sharper than whomever he works for.

Mr. Sosa - I wish everyone could meet Danny Sosa. He is one of the most amazing human beings I have ever met. When Jess and Erica came to visit me, he brought them Leavenworth will fsoftballs as a gift (that's just him...He also tried to bring them lunch and get them dinner at local restaurant, He knows this area). There is nothing that happens at Leavenworth without Sosa knowing about it. He reminds me of a mob boss that has seen everything and watches out for the people he cares about (like the scene in Goodfellas..."Respect"). He couldn't be bigger than 5'8 and 150 pounds yet he pulls the weight of the entire camp. For whatever reason he took me under his wing and has guided me through the trials and tribulations of this place. He is always in a good mood (something I aspire to do) and finds true joy in helping others. When I need advice or I am stressed out I go to him.

All these people made a mistake and are paying for it. For some it was just one bad decision...for others it was the culmination of many events that led to prison. I remember when I first got here, I was so worried about what kind of people would be here. Would I be able to relate to any of them? Would I find anyone I could truly call a friend? Ironically enough I had to come to prison to meet some of the most amazing people I otherwise would have never met. There are very few suit and tie guys here...My life was profoundly different than most of the people here however we all have in common the life changing/soul check experience of prison. Also, we are first hand examples of how destructive drugs can be. Being with other inmates 24/7 means they get to know you in a way that no other person can (I would argue different than even a spouse). There is no hiding in prison. Each one of these people is truly remarkable and they have made a huge impression on me. They have made me better. For that I will always have a special place in my heart. For that they will always have my loyalty. We will all come out of prison stronger.

I read this phrase by Cornelius Lindsey and it stuck with me - "If you live by the compliment, you'll die by the criticism."

(Dad Comment: Scott is continuing to read at camp. He is writing short reflections on many of the books. As I have many of his reviews waiting for inclusion in a newsletter, I am adding this despite the length of the newsletter. Also, this newsletter is going out to family of some of inmates discussed so they probably will find this review interesting.)

Weekly newsletter. week 34
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