SOUTH SALT LAKE — Hand-drawn Christmas decorations — snowmen, wreaths, snowflakes, a sleigh stacked full with presents — covered Pod C of the Salt Lake County Metro Jail.
The cells sat open and empty.
Judges, correctional officers and drug treatment providers filed in, filling a row of chairs set up in the middle of the pod, where inmates had created their stage.
The women, wearing garbs with the word "prisoner" printed on their pant legs, fell hushed as they stood offstage, preparing for their opening scene. Some had tied red ribbons into their hair. Many smiled and laughed while they waited.
The title of the annual Christmas play — performed Thursday by inmates participating in the jail's intensive addiction treatment program — was "Road to Recovery and Perseverance," based off "The Wizard of Oz."
Inmate Krystal Bujan played Dorothy.
As she acted out a confused and fearful Dorothy, looking around the jail's pod, Bujan said her opening line: "Oh no. Where am I? I'm all alone. ... this is all too much. I could just give up."
In real life, Bujan had been at the Salt Lake County Jail since August, after she was arrested on her seventh assault charge.
Bujan, in an interview with the Deseret News after the play, said at the time of her last arrest, she had been under the influence of alcohol, one of the several substances she said she's been addicted to for years.
She said she started using drugs — first marijuana, then methamphetamine, then alcohol, then heroin — at the age of 12.
Her drug use started after she was sexually abused at the age of 11, Bujan said.
"I hid it. I bottled everything up. Nobody knew until I was about 15 years old, after I came out in counseling," Bujan said. "My mom figured out there was something wrong with me."
As her drug use continued, Bujan, now 29, said she "started becoming very violent," and that led to an endless cycle in and out of jail and various programs. But after her latest arrest, Bujan said "nothing compared" to the Salt Lake County Jail's Correctional Addiction Treatment Services program, also known as the CATS program.
Bujan was one of 32 women participating in the three-month program — either by court order or voluntarily — while serving their time in jail with the aim to sober up and learn life skills so they don't ever end up behind bars again.
The annual play is meant to give the inmates an opportunity to thank their community — including correctional officers, judges and treatment providers — while also bring some "festive light" into their lives while they spend the holidays incarcerated, said Tamara Bingham, the program's director and therapist at Odyssey House, the provider contracted with the jail to administer the program.
"It really makes them feel appreciated and worthwhile, which a lot of these women specifically struggle with, of being something bigger than themselves and sober," Bingham said.
Bujan said she should graduate from the CATS program Jan. 19. But until then, she'll be spending Christmas and New Year's Day in the jail, unable to see her 10-year-old daughter.
"It's heartbreaking," Bujan said. "But at the same time, it's a blessing in disguise because I wouldn't understand any of this — the separation from my family or anything."
Being sober is also tough, Bujan said, "but it's well worth it in the end." After she gets out of jail, she said she plans to "get a job, be a mother, create a relationship with my daughter" as well as someday become a dance teacher.
"Just because we make bad mistakes does not make us bad people," Bujan said. "We are all sisters, mothers, daughters, and we do still have hearts."
The jail's CATS program provides daily therapy for prisoners, including group and individual therapy, said Adam Cohen, CEO of Odyssey House. He described it as "intensive treatment" for people at risk of relapsing in drug addiction and returning to jail, as well as a "jumping off point" into treatment after they're released.
The program, Cohen said, has been shown to reduce jail recidivism by 25 percent. Salt Lake County funds the program, open to 152 inmates at any given time, for $600,000 a year.
Jennifer Crue, an inmate who played the part of The Lion in the play, wrote the play's script. She said she chose to base it off "The Wizard of Oz" because she saw it as a fitting way to represent fellow inmates' struggles with their journey toward sobriety.
In Crue's version of the play, The Tin Man was in search of self-esteem. The Scarecrow was in search of "sober tools." The Wicked Witch represented "our fear and our doubt in recovery," Crue said.
"This is why we keep re-offending," Crue said. "We keep doing those things because we don't have the basic (tools) to keep us sober."
Crue, who called herself a "repeat drug offender," said she has been addicted to crystal meth since she was 18. Now 36, she said her addiction "drove" her to commit various crimes that landed her in jail, and she was "really fortunate" when a judge offered her the opportunity to join the CATS program.
Third District Court Judge Douglas Hogan, who oversees a drug court in West Jordan, attended the play — an event he said he makes a point of attending every year to see "a different side" of the people who come to his courtroom.
"When people are in court, it's usually their worst day," Hogan said, adding that as a judge he doesn't just pass down sentences, but aims to "help people realize this isn't it, and there's a lot of life left."
People in jail especially could use that reminder during the holidays, Hogan said.1 comment on this story
"It's tough to be in jail this time of year," the judge said. "When I have people in my court that are going to be held over Christmas, I usually tell them, 'Look, you can spend 90 days in jail, and it doesn't feel like spending one holiday in jail."
But to Crue, she said she and her fellow inmates see it differently.
"The way I look at it and the way a lot of us have chosen to look at it is, 'OK, so we may have to spend this Christmas in jail,'" she said. "But this is the last Christmas we have to spend in jail."