Next week is Correctional Employees Week. At F5 Project we honor and respect all correctional employees because they are deep into the reentry ecosystem and are by far one of the most important. Below you will read one of the stories sent out by Colby Braun; Director of Facility Operations for the N Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It’s my opinion, Colby has definitely focuses more than most on the Rehabilitation aspect of that title.
Colby and his team are the first responders to addiction and mental health for all communities in North Dakota. Most of the people they serve have been rejected, kicked out and stigmatized. With leadership and staff at the NDDOCR, from directors to case managers, guards to probation officers. They have taken on the work that most would walk away from.
Below is a story of their work and collaboration with partners in the community. Especially F5 Project, Midwest Mental Health and the Ridge Treatment and Reentry Center.
CEO F5 Project
A Second Chance
By: Douglais Gerard Sr.
My name is Douglas Gerard Sr, North Dakota inmate number 38809. That number has defined me for the past ten years or so. I am currently in recovery! I have been clean for 835 days total, however I claim 246 days, because I’ve been on the other side of the walls with much easier access to the dope that pollutes our state. I have a dual diagnosis with mental health issues and substance use disorder. I am also a multiple felon with a three page rap sheet, (at one point I was proud of that rap sheet).
I am not going to sit here and give you bullshit excuses on why I made the choices that I did. In the moment when you are in your active addiction, you’re doing dope to get high. At first getting high seems so awesome. Who wouldn’t want to have an amazing rush of power through their veins every few hours to make them feel like superman? Not needing to stop to rest, up for days partying? 27/7 Sex, drugs and rock n roll! I thought it was AWESOME!
Let’s talk briefly about “The Man” . The man can be anyone in power over you, in most cases with my experiences, this is leadership at your school, your boss and supervisors, law enforcement, social services, anyone who works with addiction. If the man weren’t on me, I could do as I please. The man always gets me when I’ve been up way too long running the streets thinking I’m some gangster.
Every arrest, I felt a sense of relief. It was over! I knew how run down my body was. I was fully aware how terribly my personal hygiene had suffered. In one case, I knew I hadn’t eaten in like four days. I was ready to go to jail for that shower, and I was certain I could be real with the jailer and tell them how hungry I was and get some kind of a meal. My priorities were not things like food, oh no, It was dope, smokes, flashlights, and other things that you had no real need for.
I was not the cool kid in school, until I hit the alternative high school. Then I had a car, and a job, so I had a bunch of friends. I cannot begin to calculate the gallons of gas burned during lunch hour as we drove around smoking weed and cigarettes, but it was worth it, I had friends.
Going into the prison system in 2012, I had an idea what it was all about. I had done a year in Ward County Jail from 2008-2009. I knew who I wanted to be going in. I stand at 6 ‘3 “, about 280lbs when I’m not sick on dope and down to 210 lbs, and decided I wanted to be a “cool guy” in prison. I wanted to have a badass persona. So I did. I didn’t follow rules. I got loud with other inmates and especially with the guards. I used my size to make others intimidated because I hated myself and my existence inside the walls.
I was in plenty of fist fights as well as a few assaults. I was caught for some of them, and some of them flew under the radar. I was involved with illegal prison tattooing, and making hootch.
Any hustle I could make a dollar or pass some time, I was down for. As soon as I would get caught, I would blame the institution, and the rules, and make ridiculous claims about harassment or discrimination.
Three stays went like this until about 18 months away from my 3rd release. I hated everything to do with treatment. I still feel that the approach adopted by the powers that be are presented in a demeaning manner. Having 15 adult men in a group role playing social skills and pointing to their head is a process that destroyed what little self worth I had left. I felt stupid and like a child. Somehow in a clear moment in my own head, a treatment provider came to me to talk.
She had several requests for 1 on 1 treatment, or therapy from me.
She brought me into an office to talk, and I didnt know at that point what was up. I had previously gone off on this poor gal before when she was trying to help me. Even after the rude and obnoxious way that I treated her, she showed up for me to help. She actually cared regardless of my attitude.
She worked with me on one for the rest of my stay. I thought things were going to be better. I knew my mother was coming to the end of her life. I thought I was prepared to come out, handle that tragic time in my life, take my eldest sons on as their full time caregiver, and move on with my life.
Well I got out as scheduled on 19-Dec-2019. We went through the motions of Christmas, New Year’s Eve 2019, Steven’s Birthday (second son), Sarah’s Birthday (sister), and then were faced with my mothers death. My uncle had come to help with final arrangements and to be with the family. Upon returning to Seattle, he passed away a few days later.
I rekindled a relationship with a gal I have known since high school. I started using drugs again. Covid-19 hit. These are not excuses, these are factors. I decided that Crystal Meth was the best option. This quickly blew up to having no regard for the children I was to be caring for, or my job, or well honestly anything other than what I wanted to do at the moment.
This went from March of 2020 until my arrest in December. I was in full disaster mode. I was stealing everything not nailed down, selling drugs, running around so high I had no business behind the wheel of a car. It was only by the grace of God that I didn’t end up dead myself or killing someone.
The girl I was seeing at the time, I burned almost as hard as I could. How I could do the things to someone that I love so much is incredible to dissect here in a sober mind. She had told me the day of my arrest that I needed to make things right. She gave me just enough grace in that moment to help me decide to change myself right then and there and into my future. She answered the phone, and that was her way of “showing up”.
I went to prison, again, where I belonged. This was it. I started to do everything I could to keep busy in a productive way. I was able to secure a job in the orientation unit. This is a “dream job” in prison. You are out all day long, and you are serving the new inmates as they come in. I got into a parenting class and a new program called Shining Light academy.
Shining Light academy helped me reach into my soul and find my potential. They had me come back after graduating to be an academy assistant. I also did a few enrichment classes. The instructors showing up for me really lit a fire under me to keep going in the positive direction.
I decided going back to Minot was the worst decision possible. I didn’t think I would ever have a shot of getting that gal back in my life. It was time to start fresh. I had been to these meetings in prison for this non profit, run by former felons called the F5 Project. I decided to try to go to Fargo to work with them.
I fought to be released to F5 immediately, and it was not an option due to bed space. They had a bed open for me in Grand Forks. Yeah I said, I’ll try it there. The powers that be in the prison did not take my request well. I was given release on Parole to Centre,a halfway house in Fargo.
I was being released so I was happy. Going to a place where there are 8 men in a room in bunk beds with ½ of them not caring concerned me alot. The F5 Project showed up again. Within 48 hours the housing coordinator had called and told me to let them know he was on the way for me. I was going to F5 sober living!
It was an intense week. I had met with so many people that were there to support me. They actually cared. They got me into a meeting with a housing coordinator, care coordinator, peer support specialist, into a few groups, a weekly housing and reentry meeting and relapse prevention.
From there they hit the pavement with me, They got me a phone. Took me to get vouchers for thrift store clothing. Took me to the food pantry, showed me around Fargo. Got me into the Narcotics Anonymous circle. Then one of the gals at the office heard I was a cook previously. She knew of a restaurant about ten blocks from the sober house and helped me get a job there starting that evening!
This was my lift off point. I was given the support that kept me on the straight and narrow. I started working as much as I could, rebuilding my credit like the housing coordinator had
stressed so much. Without that move, I would not have had my credit report clear and have gained 175 points.
I was able to start to rebuild my relationship with my children and with the girl that I thought I had lost forever. I did the work. I continued to grind, putting the hours in at the restaurant. I was driving back and forth when I was able to see my lady friend. I drove through a no travel advised North Dakota Blizzard to get to my children for Christmas Eve in Williston. I showed up because I have now fully understood how it feels to have someone show up for me.
I was so moved by the way my life was changing that I decided to start giving back to those who so freely gave to me. I asked Adam Martin, CEO and founder of F5 Project if I could do anything to give back. He told me he had a few things I could do. I started volunteering as much as I was able to. I worked with the marketing team on a few different projects. I was able help with the silent auction for the Opportunity Ball 2023 and Giving Hearts Day.
One day I was sitting at home (at the sober house) when Adam called me and asked to meet with me. I was doing some work on his F5 Facebook page at that point, and had written something like I love you man on a comment, and I thought he was calling me in to tell me not to do that again, or take away access to the page.
“Doug, you said you were from Minot and had mentioned that you were thinking about going back to be closer to your kids right?……. Were opening Midwest Mental Health Clinic in Minot.
You are the man for the job to run the office. I also think you would be an amazing peer support specialist due to the leadership role you have taken in the house, your performance through all the required and elective programing is amazing. You are on the road to changing your life forever.
As I was getting ready to leave he said. “Doug, I may never see you again, people are dying everyday, make the right choices. This could be a great starting point for you Doug, using will destroy it immediately, I love you man.”
That was one of the most powerful things anyone has said to me right there in his office. This even today brings a tear to my eye. In fact this only compares to the day my now ex-wife said I do, and the day my current lady friend told me that there was a possibility we could work through all the toxic drama and try to put the puzzle pieces back together.
That was it. I put a notice in at work that evening. That night when I got off work, I started doing some research. I was going back to Minot, I had said before that I was staying out of that toxic wasteland. Where will I stay? What am I gonna go, I have some stuff but not really what I need to start over. The anxiety hit.
Parole and Probation accepted me here in Minot. I do not think they were very accepting of it at first, however one of the men in leadership with F5, who was a former law enforcement officer, talked to the head of the Minot Parole and Probation and smoothed things out.
I started calling motels to find a spot to stay temporarily. I told everyone I thought it would be a few months. I lied! In my own head, I thought if I could find a place in Minot it would take a miracle from God and realistically expect to live a full year at the motel.
After calling around I found a single room at the Dakota Inn in Minot for six hundred dollars a month, with no deposit. This was what I thought I could pay. The fear of having a bill due that controlled my entire existence was at times devastating. When I was living with F5, in the event I couldn’t pay the bill on time, they would work with me and I knew it. The real world expects results. I am very aware of this. I am terrible with money management. I don’t like that statement. I was terrible with money management previously, and often made poor choices without thinking of the consequences. This one would be homelessness. This is a big deal now to me, and caused me a great deal of stress.
Now we have more issues. I have too much stuff for a little motel room. Now I had to find a storage shed. I thought I could just make two trips into Minot from Fargo with my car and throw everything non essential in storage until I moved into the motel. After the first load I realized I had a lot of stuff. Nothing worth much, but it was mine. It seems that after being in prison with nearly nothing, you want to keep everything.
How am I gonna pull this? I just don’t have the money or the credit card to rent a moving van. Luckily my higher power provided a way and I was able to find help with the expense and the credit line to get it. I brought all my stuff up to the shed, and then moved it into the motel.
It seemed like the last week in Fargo went by like a lightning bolt. I was here ready to walk into a field I had absolutely no previous experience with. I was told till you fake it until you make it, so I did. I have been officially employed for F5 and Midwest for a month and a half.
This job is tough. I’m seeing some people at their worst. That’s where my lived experience comes in though. I get it. I completely understand a lot of the issues with my participants with my peer support side of my job, and I know how it feels to be the patient on the mental health side.
This is not all rainbows and unicorns. I am an addict. I still have cravings, and flashbacks. It’s a lot easier to not feel the pain, just stick that rig in your arm of dope, and presto…. All your cares are gone. That’s the way things used to be. Not anymore!
I was just blessed this past week by finding a 2 bedroom house. I was able to rent it on my own. On my credit, without a cosigner. Everything I needed has come in somehow, either by God putting whatever I need in front of me, or the friends and coworkers I have with F5 and the recovery community.
I was asked to write this little story about my second chance. The truth is, this is like my 5th chance. There are no more, I have somehow tilted the scales in my favor. There is no way to come back to Minot here in another three or four years after another criminally insane dope binge. Professionals who treated me, or criminally supervised me from parole and probation are working beside me. Together we are trying to save the lives of good people who made bad choices just like I did. There is no going back out and using. It would destroy the foundation I am rebuilding for myself and for my employer here in Minot. The Minot Police Chief just donated 2 used AED machines that we desperately needed. He donated them directly to me for the program. I corresponded, talked on the phone, and went myself to pick them up. (most likely the first time in twenty five years that I willingly talked to law enforcement, or went into the PD without handcuffs and an escort). These kinds of things are happening because of the good I am putting forth into the community.
I think that I should go back and decide on the title. Nope this isn’t a second chance for me.
This was nothing but a true case of UGLY GRACE.
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