A lot of things in Lane Porter’s life were, at one time, just noise. In Porter’s pre-HOPE existence, he was an ambitious dish-satellite salesman in his 20s. He had a talent for sales and a taste for cocaine that helped him rack up five felonies for theft, burglary and possession charges in 2003 and that landed him a three-year stint at CUCF. He joined the HOPE program in 2004.
“It changed my life, and I can say that without reservation,” Porter says. While HOPE was Porter’s first experience in a therapeutic community, it would not be his last, as he now is a full-time counselor for the First Step House, a Salt Lake City halfway house and communitytreatment center.
Porter decided when he left HOPE and the prison in 2007, he would continue to repay his debt to society. “I made a decision that I was going to use the rest of my life making up for that,” he says. Then, with a laugh, he adds, “It’s not like I’m living like an ascetic. I freakin’ love my job and can’t believe I get paid every day to do this!” HOPE clicked for Porter, no matter how much the noise of his addiction tried to block it out. “HOPE gave me a chance to listen to my internal voice, to listen to who I really was.”
For Porter, it took prison to find peace of mind, but it wasn’t just HOPE.
It was his particular community. During the time Porter was inside, there were five dorms that housed 48 inmates each in HOPE. Porter says, if the general prison population looked down upon HOPEsters as snitches, his section in particular was more poorly regarded by the other four HOPE dorms for snitching.
“We were pariahs,” Porter says, “We were seen as cops,” adding that members of his section faced added security risks for their participation in the program. “Which was fine with me. I mean, if the whole prison had been like [HOPE], it would have been easier. It’s just hard to get buy-in to the program with the prisoners of Elm and Birch [non-HOPE cell blocks] watching.”
Porter’s dorm excelled in the program through leadership and clever techniques. In some situations, the senior mentors of his group would promote inmates who were struggling in the program to leadership positions just to get them invested in the program.
“They would often become the strongest members of the community,” Porter says. While graduating from HOPE may have given Porter a different perspective than an inmate like Agee, Porter shares similar concerns and recalls similar stories of favoritism and abuse of privileges by senior mentors from other HOPE pods, a flaw that could be remedied by more oversight.
“Because it’s an internally run program, there was a feeling that [Corrections] could apply minimal resources,” Porter says. “It does need more resources. It does need more trained, professional counselors.” Even with the recent hires, there is still only one actual substance-abuse professional for every 72 inmates in HOPE.
“I think [better funding] would do wonders for the program,” he says. “I really do.”
Winston Churchill once said democracy was the worst kind of government, except for all of the other kinds. The same might be said for therapeutic communities like HOPE. These systems depend on the people who comprise it. Communities can heal when they have the right mix of leaders, instead of manipulators, and the right separation of powers, with staff not spread too thin.
Agee wishes the program would screen mentors better and emphasize life-skills classes to help inmates when they get out of prison, as opposed to skits and feel-good activities like singing doowop.
But even for Agee, who has seen fellow inmates make a mockery of the program’s goal of a “positive peer culture” with bloody results, there’s no denying that the program offered moments of inspiration. Two major assignments, in particular, bring out the best in even the worst offenders: an essay at the beginning of their HOPE tenure on how their drug habits impacted their lives, and another at the end of treatment on how their drug habits impacted others.
For Agee, a former senior mentor who got to the top and “sold the bullshit, sold the party line and sold the program” for HOPE, there was no denying the effect of this last assignment.
got this dynamic of these guys standing up and reading their paper in
front of their crews. Eighty percent of these people break down in
tears,” Agee says. “There’s power in that. It really makes you