At 38 years old, Dave Durocher was looking at a life sentence.
He was a self-professed corruptor who’d ruined people’s lives. As a high-level drug dealer, he’d already spent years in prison. After completing a two-year sentence, he immediately went back to selling drugs then was arrested again. He did a five-year prison sentence that time. Then a six-year sentence. Then a 10-year sentence. Four consecutive prison sentences.
His was the story you hear about and would think – “people like that will never change.” And based on Dave’s pattern of behavior, you’d be right. Being incarcerated had become a way of life for Dave. So, he decided he was going to make a name for himself on the inside.” He’d always be at the top of the food chain. He’d always be calling the shots.
Unfortunately, the mentality of survival at all costs, fueled by hate worked against him. It made him more venomous which, in turn, made life in prison even more unbearable.
“Prison is a hate factory…” Dave said. “It’s like high school with knives.”
After completing his 10-year sentence Dave promised himself he’d never live behind bars again. But that didn’t mean he was planning on changing his ways. Without an alteration in habits, mindset, or behavior, he had no plan to live a crime-free life once he got out – it was what he knew – and what he was good at. So, unfortunately, he went right back to dealing drugs shortly after being released.
“Jails aren’t conducive to change, prisons aren’t conducive to change,” he says. “They aren’t designed to be.”
The same habits and behaviors he’d mastered through crime, deceit and manipulation were still there and hadn’t changed. His pattern of behavior caught up to him again.
As the police closed in on him during a high-speed chase, Dave attempted to take his own life – knowing if caught, he would spend the rest of his life in prison, a place he’d promised himself he would never go back to.
He failed and was arrested yet again, which was his breaking point. Dave knew deep-down that he wanted more out of life than this revolving door of crime, death, and hate. But up to this point, he hadn’t been able to break his own destructive cycle. Why would anyone give him another chance? He didn’t deserve one.
He wanted to change, but didn’t know how to take that first step.
“When someone is ready to change their life and says, ‘I need to do something different, but I need help?’ Where do you send them?” Dave said.
Faced with a life sentence (another 29 years) Dave begged for leniency in court. He’d heard about an innovative program for individuals just like him, and pleaded with the judge to be sent there as a last chance to change his life.
The judge heard his pleas and gave him a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the program. If Dave was able to complete it, he would not have to return to prison.
“Plead guilty for all charges and I’m going to send you to Delancey Street,” Dave remembers the judge saying. “If you get kicked out, I’ve got you for the rest of your life.”
Dave couldn’t take the deal fast enough. But he also quickly learned that Delancey Street, a long-term (minimum of two years) peer-to-peer life-skills and vocational training program with a focus on social responsibility, wasn’t going to be easy. At first, he started sliding back into his old ways of communicating — being arrogant, pompous, giving in to his ego and encouraging others around him to slip back into negative behaviors.
One day, Dave exploded at his program leader, telling the man that he’d never get what it was like to have served time.
“He said, ‘I’m not here to tell you about your past, I’m here to tell you about how to change your life,'” Dave remembers.
That was a moment he’ll never forget. It helped him realize he wanted to help others, too.
Dave was mandated to stay at Delancey Street for two years. He voluntarily stayed for eight, and ran Delancey’s Los Angeles facility as its Managing Director for the last 5 years of his stay.
Today, Dave is the managing director of The Other Side Academy, another long-term residential training center similar to Delancey Street that helps people exiting prison, or recovering from a substance use disorder, completely transform their lives and reconnect with their communities.
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