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Inside Sources: How criminals, addicts and homeless transform their lives free of charge

Prisoners playing chess behind prison bars. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — What happens when — instead of treating humans like liabilities to be managed — they are seen as people with unlimited talent to be fostered and developed? It’s happening in Utah.

Boyd Matheson, opinion editor at Deseret News and host of “Inside Sources,” is joined by Robert Davalos, who is a program staffer at The Other Side Academy which provides vocational and life-skill training for persistent offenders, addicts and the homeless. The program has a location in Salt Lake City.

Davalos said he spent 15 years at the Delancey Street Foundation, which began in San Francisco and from which The Other Side Academy is modeled. He also spent 20+ years incarcerated.


“People think that if you get incarcerated, that it’s a horrible thing. Basically, when I got incarcerated, it saved my life. I was actually rescued,” Davalos said. “It gave me the opportunity to actually get my brain where I was functioning again. There’s no way that you can function doing the things we were doing and being under the influences that we were under. You have to be held accountable for your actions so you can go forward with your life.”

Boyd said one of the things that always amazed him about The Other Side Academy is that — unless you’ve experienced it — it’s hard to explain how you can have a group of convicts, addicts and homeless in one place without guns, guards or cameras and function at an incredibly high level.

“In fact, it’s a far higher level than most of the organizations I’ve consulted,” Boyd said.

“It’s the family that none of us have ever had,” Davalos said. “I think that is what makes it work. It’s what you realize the minute you step on our grounds.”

Boyd said that family feel comes with a heavy dose of straight talk, crucial conversations and a whole lot of accountability.

Speaking the truth

“If you want somebody to let you know exactly what your ears look like, then you need to come to The Other Side Academy,” Davalos said. 

He added that people often tell you what you want to hear so they can get what you have.

“At The Other Side Academy, all we have is ourselves,” he said. “We don’t allow you to do the things that will hurt you.”

Davalos said at the Academy they work on developing character, being honest, decent and accountable.

“We are now givers instead of takers,” Davalos said. 

For The Other Side Academy student-run enterprises, he said, everybody starts working from the bottom.

“They can actually learn how to interact with other people and make something their own,” he said. “This is their business. It’s only going be what they allow it or make it to be.”

No government funding

Boyd mentioned the Academy runs a moving business, a food truck business and two thrift boutiques in Murray and Millcreek.

“All of that allows you to function independent of any funds from Washington, D.C., or from the state. You are self-sustaining,” Boyd said.

“Instead of putting our hand out for something, we put our hands on something and we do the work,” Davalos said. “But, of course, we do accept donations.”

He added that the Academy has just launched The Other Side Builders, which he said is licensed and insured.

“We have great talent at The Other Side Academy. They just haven’t been given the opportunity to use it,” Davalos said.


Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 11:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.