Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Joseph Grenny, chairman of The Other Side Academy, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 12, 2018. The Other Side Academy has purchased an apartment building at 35 S. 700 East that will add 100-plus beds for the homeless and chronic criminal offenders.

Utahns believe in redemption. And yet we have unwittingly designed a system that not only fails to influence people to change their lives, it positively paralyzes them — trapping them in the criminal lifestyle the rest of us abhor. It’s time this stopped. Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, is sponsoring HB431, a bill that will help give those who show they are serious about changing their lives a path to do so. People like Alan Fahringer.

Alan Fahringer’s life was drugs. By 2005 his misspent life led him to a substantial prison sentence. His arrest and imminent conviction were a wake-up call. He took a hard look at his life, and who he had become, and seized an option to enter a rigorous program that promised to help him turn his life around. And it did. Not only did he complete the lengthy program, but he stayed without pay, for another five years to help save the lives of those he had come to care about.

Through this experience, Fahringer decided he would dedicate his life to helping people just like him become a person they had never met before. As part of that new life, he helped me, Joseph Grenny, start The Other Side Academy, or TOSA, three years ago in Salt Lake City. TOSA is a residential school where Fahringer lives full time with close to a hundred longtime criminals and drug addicts who are fighting to change their lives for the better.

And yet, in spite of the remarkable and lasting changes he has made, he is still blocked from jobs, banking, travel and other necessities of life — just as if he were still the man he was more than a decade ago.

Dozens of graduates of The Other Side Academy face the same fate. As they near graduation, determined to set a new life course, our students begin to worry. Where will I find an apartment? Will anyone interview me for a job? When can I have a bank account? Our students spend two years or more learning to become some of the most impeccably honest and decent people in our state. And yet when they are ready to begin their new lives, they are routinely denied jobs, apartments and other tools they need to survive.

Consider even one of our recent stellar graduates. After two years learning to live a decent, value-centered life, he found employment in an entry-level hourly job. So far, so good. Then he began applying for an apartment. Every application required an application fee equivalent to four or five hours of his wages. When apartment managers checked his background, they automatically rejected him. Each time he was turned down, he was forced to apply again. And again. And again. After a dozen applications, he had consumed what little cash reserves he had accumulated. At that point, he began reaching out to the only housing options available to him — people from his criminal past.

It’s time for commonsense legislation that sends a different message to people like Alan and our graduates. We should create reasonable paths to expungement for past offenses for those who have proven they are no longer the people they used to be.

The current process is prohibitively expensive and unnecessarily lengthy for those who need it most. A person who has lived honestly and decently for a decade is still haunted by past offenses until they work through a labyrinthine bureaucracy requiring hundreds or thousands of dollars of legal assistance. The public rightly demands that those with a criminal past climb out of the deep hole they are in, but then we grease every ladder they have available. How can we expect them to engage in a new way of living if we systematically exclude them from the crucial tools they need to live that very life?

2 comments on this story

Let me be clear, we believe people must be held accountable for harm they cause to others. Criminal records should be left in place long enough to ensure patterns that require escalated actions can be appropriately addressed. This bill will allow those with relatively minor crimes who have broken the pattern to succeed in the changes they have demonstrated commitment to.

Our laws express our values. We need to tell people like Alan Fahringer that we prize redemption. We applaud the rigorous self-renewal he demonstrates. And let’s do so by getting out of their way, not making it even harder than it already is.