COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Forty-four individuals who battled deep-rooted addictions graduated Sunday from the Stout Street Foundation's peer-based therapy program.
That was not an easy ask during the pandemic.
"I started drinking heavily in high school," said Daniel R., one of the graduates. "When I was 19, I ended up robbing a Target."
Daniel, now 37, said he then started using cocaine.
"That led to crack," he said. "I spent the good part of 20 years drinking, doing drugs, trying to get sober and relapsing."
He joined Stout Street Foundation on Aug. 30, 2018.
"I was homeless. I didn't have anywhere to go. I had burned all the bridges in my life," he said.
After completing Stout Street's program, Daniel began working at the Denver Rescue Mission, where he found himself facing more temptation.
"We ended up with around 800 guys at the National Western Complex for an entire summer, and I was right out of treatment surrounded by 800 guys who were actively using," he said.
Megan Marshall, 29, said she was in and out of detox "a lot."
Her addiction: "Heroin and meth, and then at the end, benzos (Benzodiazepines — tranquilizers) as well," she said.
Marshall went to jail in August of 2018.
"I thought I was going to prison," she said. "That's when I checked into Stout Street."
She said Stout Street Foundation is different from other treatment centers.
"It includes 12 steps and the holistic approach, but it also involves the behavior aspect," she said.
She said her addiction is beyond her trauma.
"It's beyond my drug use," she said. "You get a sense of what it's like to work. You get a sense of what it's like to deal with situations and the consequences of your actions. No other treatment center teaches you that."
Fellow graduate Brian Gonzales spent years trying to turn his life around.
"I didn't care if I lived or died," he said.
Gonzales said he'd been trafficking in guns and drugs.
Stout Street Foundation was the answer.
"It's an amazing program," said CEO Christopher Conway.
Conway said he'd been "sentenced" to Stout Street in 1998 after facing a couple of drug charges.
Since then, he jokes, he's gone from "resident to president."
Conway said Stout Street's peer-based therapy helps clients identify traumas and reckon with emotional imbalances. He said each resident reaches a vulnerable spot in front of 120 others.
"When they finally understand that they have this foundation and they can rely on themselves, the magic just... is great," he said. "It's gleams. It flows."
The graduates are now ready to move on, many to help others as they've been helped.
Gonzales said he's signing up to take psychology at Red Rocks Community College.
"I have the experience of being at the lowest part of life, so one other way can I give back, to stay on top, is by helping the ones where I was," he said.
Conway said it's quite an experience watching the transition from scared newcomer to confident graduate.
The graduates tossed their caps into the air at the Waymire Dome at the Adams County Fairgrounds.
"When you deal with people who have been there for a day, or a week, or a month, and they are so sad. They are so desperate, and they want to leave, and they gotta go and the drugs are calling, and the noise is loud, and when they finally get to the point where they're walking onto the stage at Stout Street, there's just not a better feeling for us as counselors," he said.
To learn more about the Stout Street Foundation, click here.