The majority of criminals incarcerated in the state of Utah, as well as nationwide, are in prison for drug-related crimes. Quite often, crimes of violence, robbery, and even gang crimes are connected to the use of and/or sale of drugs.
The prison system is a system of punishment. The law requires certain behaviors of all of us, and if we do not follow these laws, we will be punished through the system. Federal crimes, many of which are drug crimes, lead to imprisonment for sentences up to a lifetime.
For drug problems, however this system is not effective. Currently, it is all we have, as a nation, for those who cannot afford quality drug treatment. But, repeat offenders are far too common.
For example, in Utah, Nate Workman was working towards a football career. He had a scholarship from Utah State University to play on the Aggies team. But, due to drugs, he never made it that far.
Having been in prison several times in the last ten years, he has finally completed a drug program, run by the state, called Con-Quest. A 12-18 month rigorous program, it is run by the Department of Corrections.
Inmates participating in the program are held accountable for their chores and are taken to task by other inmates, if they do not follow through. They also receive individual and group counseling throughout the program.
So far, this may be the best change in the punishment system for drug addicts. Even though inmates are in prison and punished strictly for even small negative behaviors, the Con-Quest program gives them at least some semblance of drug treatment usually only available to the wealthy and the well-insured.
For 12 to 18 months, inmates involved in the Con-Quest program participate in both group and individual therapy. Their classes touch on rational thinking, criminal lifestyles and wellness. They are also held responsible for even the littlest of actions, such as not wiping down the sink, and are reminded by others in the program when they don’t fulfill their responsibilities.
Prison officials describe the program as an “intensely structured environment where they develop pro-social skills and learn from one another in a monitored group setting.”
Before being sent to prison, Workman said he was angry, defeated and disgusted with himself.
“Drugs took me away from everything that was important to me,” he said.
His football career ended when he started committing burglaries to support his meth habit. For the past decade, he has been in and out of state and federal prison, always being sent back after less than a year of being released.
He most recently was sent to the Utah State Prison in 2010. Immediately he wrote a letter requesting to get into the Con-Quest program.
“I was so very tired of the pain and heartache,” he said. “I was overwhelmed with disgust. It was time for change.”
With Con-Quest, Workman said he now has the tools to know how to face a situation better.
“I have the opportunity to respond correctly,” he said. “This program has been a breath of fresh air.”
Although he still has a year left in his sentence and knows he will still face challenges to stay clean when he is released, both Workman and his mother were excited for what they believe is a bright future.
The bulky 44-year-old missed his chance for a football career. But now he is anxious to get out of prison and help his 14-year-old son, already a star player in his youth football and baseball leagues.
“It’s come full circle,” he said.
Inmates in the Con-Quest program are dedicated to becoming better men, better fathers and better husbands, said inmate and program member Kit Moser.
Jonathan Pegg said it was easy for him to get stuck in a routine of drugs, alcohol and stealing. “I’m no longer stuck in my destructive behavior,” he said.
Inmate Ervin Brafford also had high praise for the program.
“It’s amazing what I can learn if I would just shut up and listen,” he joked.