Extreme Welding

Health Program Corrects Gang Member

CEDER CITY, UT – David Montoya is beaming as he stands at the podium before Judge John Walton at the 5th District Court.

The 31-year-old giddily tells Walton about how he will be beginning a welding program at the Southwest Applied Technical College in a few weeks and he has another laser tattoo removal session scheduled for only a few days after.

“I’m doing amazing, man,” Montoya says to Walton and his fellow Mental Health Court participants seated in the courtroom. “And it’s all because of this app. I didn’t think a program could assist me. I’m still sober — 90 times this week”

As his eyes crinkle with all the force of his smile, you can just barely make out the faded remnants of the tattooed words “see evil” under every eye.

“You are doing the majority of the job, David,” Walton explained. “There’s a lot of people here to help and support you whenever you need it, but you’re doing most of the job and we’re proud of you.”

The 11 Mental Health Court participants burst into applause as Montoya returned to his chair beside his wife — an unusual sight in conventional court rooms.

But his future had not looked so bright seven years ago when the estimate sentenced to jail on felony drug convictions him.

A troubled past

Montoya was just 10 years old the first time he smoked weed. The pair, who Montoya describes like friends instead of father and son, rapidly escalated to harder drugs.

At 15, he was hooked on heroin and running using a local gang, the Varrio Loco Town (VLT). Anywhere was better than home where his dad would regularly beat him and his sisters.

After being detained for a series of controlled drug buys by 22 he was incarcerated at the Utah State Prison.

Being locked up didn’t put an end to Montoya’s downward spiral, however. The VLT ran strong even. He was able to get heroin and pills while still working to earn more “stripes” together with the gang.     With each crime he would find more time, as becoming out never seemed like a potential but that did not matter to Montoya.

“I had been with the gangs all my life and my time in prison trying to establish everything to everyone else,” he explained. “I thought I was never coming out.”

With empty days ahead of him, he began covering his face, chest, back and hands with tattoos claiming his allegiance to the gang. His prison nickname, Brown Clown, was inked on every one of his hands, while his face bore his allegiance to the VLT life. His forehead read “My Evil Ways.” “See No Evil” was tattooed under both eyes, while “Speak No Evil” was inked below his mouth.

“It’s like you can’t ever tell on no one or anything you see that you keep on your own,” he explained. “Someone murders someone beside you and you do not say nothing.”

Every time he was prior to the Utah Board of Pardons he would be turned down as the other tattoo was inserted to his entire body. Montoya grew more and more frustrated with the system he said made him such a way.

Montoya was released at the age of 29 after seven years in prison. Besides his drug addiction, he was facing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Anxiety Disorder and paranoia.

He soon began regularly using methamphetamine.

“I was psychological,” he explained. “I was hearing voices all of the time. I went to all of this stuff (medication) inquiring why I heard each of those voices and I thought these things could make it stop.”

But the medication made matters worse.

New solutions for old problems

Fifth District Court Judge John Walton saw there was a difficulty. Throughout his years as then a judge and a prosecutor, he saw exactly the individuals.

“You see people in court all the time who’ve probably been found competent in criminal court, but everybody would recognize the large, real and quite serious mental health conditions that complicate their ability to live their own life, be successful and remain out of the reproductive system,” Walton said.

Walton traveled into Salt Lake City to Watch the first Mental Health Court after its launch in 2001.

While the notion of this court was a relatively new at the moment, Walton believed it might be the answer to the lingering question of how to assist those in the criminal justice system afflicted by mental health problems in Utah.

According to a  2015 report by the Urban Institute, more than half of all inmates in jails and state prisons suffer from mental disease. Depressive disorder is the report details, the most common at 21 percent with PTSD, anxiety, bipolar illness and schizophrenia after.

“Just one in three state offenders and one in six prison inmates who suffer from mental health issues report having received mental health treatment since admission,” in accordance with the 2015 research.

Walton noted that the system is equipped to handle these sort of cases. Some underlying health problems were being addressed while they could be punished for the crime.

“In my mind, the machine was recognizing for a while that in the event that you treat somebody who’s an addict like everyone else that it won’t be prosperous,” Walton explained. “We have shown that you need to treat the underlying difficulty. It’s the same in Mental Health Court. If you treat somebody with a mental health issue exactly like someone who does not have one, you will not be prosperous.”

The Mental Health Court was implemented in the 5th District Court in Washington County.

County officials encouraged to try it in Iron County too after viewing its success.

“We knew there was demand for something more to deal with mental illness compared to what he had,” Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett stated. “We worked collectively as a community with help from the Cedar City Police Department, Southwest Mental Health, Judge Walton along with the courtroom. We came together and put this program together and got it started.”

Was their participant.

Getting help Rather than jail time

Montoya was detained again.

CCPD arrested him after he walked with a handful of things out of a grocery store without paying for them.

“I wasn’t really on my pills,” he recounted. “I quit carrying my psychotic pills. I just got off my tablets, went from the store and took stuff.”

But rather than returning to prison, Montoya was believed for its Mental Health Court participant in Iron County. Southwest Behavioral Health Center screened the afterward 29-year-old if he fit the necessary criteria to take part to establish. Typically MHC participants must be diagnosed using a qualifying mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, PTSD or depression as they often respond to medication.

While the criteria were fulfilled by Montoya members of law enforcement and the legal community expressed some skepticism about him because of his abusive past and repeat offenses.

“They questioned whether he could be successful at this,” Duane Jarvis, Iron County Mental Health Program Manager for the Southwest Behavioral Health Center, said. “Previously, he had been kind of a scary dude.”

The Iron County Attorney’s Office had coped with Montoya multiple times in the past — they sent him to prison.

“What we have heard and what numbers suggest is these courts are designed for high risk, higher need people and that surely matches David’s category,” Garrett said. “These are the exact individuals these courts are designed to help.”

What Is Needed to rehabilitate

Montoya was enrolled in stage one. In the initial phase, he was expected to undergo weekly drug tests and comply with a 9 p.m. curfew. He was also required to meet on a regular basis a month, in addition to attending MHC, with his mental health counselor, Jarvis. Some participants also attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and additional counseling through the National Alliance on Mental Illness support team according to their unique needs.

“It is about ensuring these people don’t fall through the cracks and doing everything we can to assist them,” Jarvis said.

Veterans Court tries to Violate cycle

Sobriety did not come however. Montoya admits he was still using the first few months he participated in the program. He was stashing drugs in his house when his baby daughter was born. The tracker for MHC found drug paraphernalia and cocaine, THC wax in July 2016, according to court documents.

Both Walton and Garrett confessed that relapses are an unfortunate part of the rehab process. While recovering from drug addictions and stabilizing their health difficulties are major objectives, they’re a distant one, Walton said. Rather, the first focus is on proximal objectives, such as showing up to court and treatment.

“We tend to sanction those higher than medication use at first because we do not immediately expect them to be at the top of the mental health difficulties, however we do expect them to appear and be truthful,” Walton said. “Should they use, especially early on, we will likely sanction that, but likely at a lower degree than not showing up. We are focusing on the long run, as opposed to the right now.”

Staying clean and moving on

After nearly a year in stage one of the MHC program, Montoya has been clean for 90 days.

He pleaded guilty to the drug charges in abeyance as part of plea. Both drug charges and the theft will be dropped upon finishing the MHC. Garrett clarified this is the best incentive for participants. The plea in abeyance is revoked and the person would be sentenced on the initial charges when they were to fail to finish MHC.

But a part of sobriety for Montoya meant leaving his gang past. Last year, he began the lengthy and painful process of owning all of his gang related tattoos laser eliminated. The tattoo removal is free via a program together with the Salt Lake Area Gang Project. As of March, he’s had over80,000 worth of tattoo removal. The majority of the tattoos on his face have been eliminated completely. Next they’ll focus on the ink onto his hands, torso, back and neck.

He’s noticed an important difference in the way he’s treated when in people since he began the removal procedure. People would stare. On numerous occasions, Montoya said their children would be grabbed by parents when he walked past. The constant stares only exacerbated his paranoia.

They look at him just like a normal person.

“It’s just not me,” he said in reference to his antiques. “It hurts, but it’s worth being sober”

Montoya, who was recently promoted to phase two is currently focused on being a supportive husband to his wife, Bri along with a good dad to his daughter. Staying sober did not get any more easy, he became concentrated on what that mattered following the arrival of his baby.

Bri said seeing the difference while the past few years are tough on the family has been well worth the effort.

“We get along better when he’s sober,” she explained. “He gets with the baby when he’s sober. I tell him all of the time that when he’s sober and if he’s using it’s like he’s two different men and women.”

Resources for change

Montoya has moved to some counselor role as the MHC program grows to take participants. He frequently encourages other people to reach him out like using, should they feel or are fighting. As he encouraging lots of the people, this has become the largest change he used to get high with to remain clean.

His job is not over yet though. Montoya plans to begin studying welding at the Southwest Applied Technical College, while he has a few stages left MHC. Ultimately, he expects to get a job to be able rather than relying upon a income to provide for his family.

“What changed me is this program,” he said. “Discussing Duane every week. Going to school. Seeing what I could have and what I could do if I am sober. Being able to purchase a brand-new car seat for my daughter.   It’s simply amazing what I could do now without doing drugs and I’m becoming my mind straightened out.”

He credits for supplying him to battle with his dependence and gain control of his mental illness MHC.

It helps that everybody is rooting for him along the way.

“We see David married and trying to be a fantastic husband and seeking to be a good dad, and we just cross our fingers and hope that he can keep this up and can be prosperous,” Garrett explained. “We all want him to succeed. We need everybody who comes to the mental health court to be prosperous.”