Healing the community, one member at a time

By September 15, 2017 Currents, Press No Comments

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Rocky Baier, Special to Inside Tucson Business

From Inside Tucson Business Sept 15, 2017

Once you’re in the loop, it’s hard to get out. Addiction latches onto people, controlling their lives, forcing them to commit crimes, push away family and friends, and harm themselves and others. That’s where the Amity Foundation comes in.

The Amity Foundation, founded in the late 1960s in Tucson, is a nonprofit organization that works to break the cycle of addiction.

Amity now serves 3,000 men and women daily in Arizona, California and New Mexico. Its services reach into prisons, as well as residential campuses such as the Circle Tree Ranch in eastern Tucson.

Circle Tree Ranch is a therapeutic community that breaks the addictions of clients—or “students,” in the lingo of Amity—with a long-term curriculum that has been developed over the last half-century. The end goal is to get people back on their feet to stay on their feet, breaking the cycle of recidivism.

“The recidivism rate in the U.S. is outrageous,” said communications director Barry Warne. “People just keep going back (to jail). So we can interrupt that cycle and then interrupt the generational cycle.”

According to a study done by the United States Sentencing Commission, nearly half of federal offenders released in 2005 were “rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions” in the following eight years. 

One reason Circle Tree Ranch is special is because it allows children to stay with their parents, taking them out of the foster care system and rekindling a family dynamic while parents tackle their addictions. 

Bringing the entire family into the healing process creates a “ripple effect” for the entire community, according the Ray Carroll, a former Pima County supervisor who now serves as Amity’s community and government relations representative. 

“Our ripple effect is not just jobs that we produce, but better outcomes in families,” Carroll said. “When you save one person, a head of household, you save their whole family and you raise the quality of life for the entire neighborhood or block they live on.”

Running Circle Tree Ranch requires constant work on the grounds, including construction and maintenance, as well as in the kitchen and the office. 

Training equips students with real skills they can use to get back on their feet after they graduate from the program. It’s another way Amity gives back to the community, as many of the jobs at the Ranch are filled by previous students. 

One such graduate, Nicole Benson, works in the communications department for Amity, running computers and large printing machines in the print shop on site. 

“Most of us here came from a really rough background, grew up in the lifestyle, became a product of the lifestyle,” Benson said. “I grew up not knowing any better. I ended up having three children by the time I was 21 years old. I didn’t know how to be a mom. I quickly turned to drugs to cover up my pain and emotions and quickly fell into that lifestyle.”

From there, she was in and out of prison, giving her children to their father. She finally had a wake-up call in the last month after an 18-month jail sentence when she learned that the father of her children was killed in a motorcycle accident. While still behind bars, she learned of the Amity program.

“I went to them and told them ‘I need help. I am leaving this prison in a couple of weeks, if I am to hit the streets, I’m going back to the same lifestyle, I don’t know any different,’” Benson said. 

Eventually, she found herself in Arizona after being transferred from Los Angeles and felt at home immediately. 

Both Bond and Warne were also once students at Amity. 

Bond first came to Amity when he was six years old. He was one of the children allowed on campus while his parents went through the program, giving him a very different childhood.

“I grew up seeing my parents behind glass and in jail, talking to them on the phone in prison, and my daughter will never have that experience,” Bond said.

When Bond was in his mid-20s, he became addicted to opioids and became a student himself.

When he first checked himself in, staying sober for one day was a huge accomplishment for him, but day by day he got the drugs out of his system. As a student, he worked in nearly every part of the community he could, learning what Amity does in the process.

However, once clean, Bond’s problems shifted. He was faced with learning how to be a good father, husband, son, and friend while he was a student, and regained his identity through the relationships he built in the Amity community.

Warne discovered thataddiction is just a Band-Aid on another problem, a symptom of some other virus.

“And here, [the virus is] a bad childhood start, all kinds of self-esteem issues, all kinds of messaging you got in our highly, highly outer directed society where it’s all about being 95 pounds and fabulous and rich, (those messages) that kind of stick on us over the years.”

Once people get clean, Amity helps people find transitional housing in Dragonfly Village and employment. 

“If by the time they’ve completed [the program] they don’t have a safe place to live and some type of income, whether through employment or benefits, then we’re really not succeeding in our mission,” Bond said.

Once students stop worrying about drug use, they can begin to live normal, stable lives. 

“I don’t worry about drug use now, I worry about having a teenage daughter,” Bond said.

Rocky Baier is a University of Arizona journalism student and Inside Tucson Business intern.

From Inside Tucson Business Sept 15, 2017