SALT LAKE CITY — No matter when you get an education, it can be empowering. In fact, taking a chance on a college degree helped one Utah man escape the lifestyle that had trapped him behind bars for years.
Brian Tease is back behind bars these days.
"I spent most of my adult life in and out of prison," says Tease. "And I was in and out of jail due to my addictions and due to my choices."
But Tease is not at the Salt Lake County Jail to do more time.
On this evening in May 2016, he is here to give time to guys just like himself. As he gathers 13 inmates around him in a circle of chairs, Tease suggests, "Let's go around the room and check in. We'll see how everybody is doing."
These inmates are looking for a way out of jail and down the path to recovery. "We're not bad people, we're sick people trying to get well," says Tease.
One of the inmates shares his thoughts, saying, "I hope to stay strong and get back to the real world."
Tease found his way back to the real world through education … first at Salt Lake Community College and later at the University of Utah. "Getting an education has been so empowering," he says.
In less than a decade, Tease went from inmate to recovering addict to college student. "Getting an education has been a privilege, you know and an honor, and a gift," says Tease.
It's also been a challenge for a guy who had a rough childhood and then lost an identical twin in a freak mining accident when he was 23 years old. "I didn't have any tools in the toolbox to be able to deal with his death and I gradually leaned more and more on alcohol, which led into drug abuse, which led into full-blown addiction," he says.
Two decades later, Tease chose education over crime. And the more he's learned academically, the more he understands himself. "It kind of clarified for me the purpose of why I'm getting an education is to go back to the population from which I came from," says Tease.
So Tease is back and working with the inmates and recovering addicts who are looking for a way to start over.
As director of correctional services for the Salvation Army, Tease is helping former inmates like Scott Anthony change their lives. "He's been there and it touched me because he (Tease) said, you know there is change," says Anthony. "And to see what his struggles have been and then his achievements are, it really has touched my heart and given me hope."
Anthony's wife Raini, a recovering addict herself, calls Tease "a role model." Anthony agrees, "very big, Brian is a very big role model."
With Tease' support and guidance, Anthony avoided a prison sentence. Raini was surprised. "I thought he'd go to prison and he didn't," she said.
"Brian actually came in and advocated for us and said you know what, these guys deserve a second chance, please give them that chance. They're good people," says Anthony.
The Anthonys are people whose addictions already cost them custody of a child. "You try so hard and I lost him over time. I ran out of time and addiction is hard," says Raini Anthony with tears in her eyes.
Addictions are hard to beat, but as Tease has proven, not impossible. "You changed us man, that's for sure," says Anthony. Today, he and Raini are clean and sober, they're expecting a new baby, and Scott Anthony has a job.
"Whoever thought a guy, ex-convict, drug addict, alcoholic, can make the changes," says Tease.
For Tease, those changes led to graduation with honors from the U.'s school of social work. When he shares the news with the jail inmates he's been meeting with, they give him a hearty round of applause.
Now, Tease is committed to serving the recovery community that helped him to take back his life.
He is already inspiring inmates like Matthew Kirby who says, "We can change, if we want to do it, we can and he's (Tease) there to show us, you know, look where he's at."
Inmate Beau Neal agrees, saying Tease "gives me a lot of hope. He kind of paved the road that we need to take."
Tease gives his education and those who supported him through it all the credit for his success. "It was the recovery community that supported me and encouraged me and loved me until I could love myself," says Tease.
Earlier this month, Tease began a master's degree program in social work at the U. He hopes to be a licensed clinical therapist by 2017 with an emphasis on treatment of those with substance abuse and addiction problems.