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Jim Kenyon: Dismas Offers Second and Third Chances

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 10/24/2018 12:02:56 AM
Modified: 10/24/2018 5:02:45 PM

On a Friday night last November, Colby Goodrich hit bottom — again. After the Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction had closed, Goodrich smashed a window to get inside, rummaged through an office and made off with $80 from a change box.

The former high school basketball standout didn’t get far. Goodrich was so drunk and high on the prescription tranquilizer Xanax that Hartford police, responding to a 911 call about a break-in at Listen, caught up with him a block away.

When I read about Goodrich’s arrest, his name sounded familiar. I’d interviewed him two years earlier when he was living at Dismas House in Hartford Village. Dismas is the nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing in a group setting for people just out of prison.

After three DUI convictions and six months in prison, Goodrich seemingly had turned his life around. A skilled tradesman, he’d landed a decent job at Vermod, a Wilder company that builds energy-efficient modular homes.

What went wrong?

“I picked up the bottle again,” he told me on Monday.

Goodrich, now 35, had been a promising athlete before he started drinking in high school.

Bill Murphy, who coached Goodrich in basketball at Bellows Falls High School and has stayed in touch with him over the years, said Goodrich was a gym rat from the time was 8 or 9 years old. “Colby was the little kid next door who everybody loved,” Murphy said.

As a sophomore at Bellows Falls, Goodrich helped lead his team to a state basketball championship in 2000. He was a 6-foot-tall guard who had the talent to play in college, Murphy told me.

By the time he was a junior in high school, however, Goodrich had quit playing.

“Alcohol and drugs sort of took over,” Goodrich said.

After graduating in 2002, he worked as a carpenter and painter. At 18, he was earning $17 an hour. “My life consisted of going to work and drinking,” he said.

At the end of a hard day of pounding nails, Goodrich could polish off 20 Buds while hanging out with friends. He also racked up two DUI convictions before turning 25.

After the second conviction, he stayed sober for four years. But by 2012 he was drinking again. A car crash led to his third DUI charge and eight months in prison.

Dismas, which operates four transitional homes in Vermont, agreed to take him in. It’s fairly selective. Applicants are interviewed while they’re still in prison and given a couple of weeks to find a job after their release. It doesn’t take sex offenders.

The Hartford house, which opened in 2014, can accommodate 10 men and women. Residents pay $80 a week in room and board.

During his six-month stay, Goodrich saved up enough money to get a place of his own. But as Goodrich’s story illustrates, Dismas isn’t just about getting people back on their feet. It’s also about helping them back up if they fall down. And Goodrich fell hard.

He served nine months at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield for the Listen burglary. After being released in August, he was allowed to return to Dismas.

“Failure is not an option this time,” he said. “I’d drink myself to death.”

In the last year, 28 men and women have lived at Dismas. Roughly 20 percent of them landed back in prison for violating the conditions of their release, according to statistics that Jeff Backus, Dismas’ house director, has compiled. Considering the state’s overall recidivism rate is about 45 percent, Dismas has a pretty good success rate.

Goodrich and the others who end up behind bars again seem to have one thing in common. “It almost always boils down to an addiction issue,” said Backus, who spent nine years as a corrections officer in Montana and Vermont before joining Dismas’ staff in March 2017. “Relapsing can be part of the process.”

Along with working at Dan & Whit’s General Store in Norwich, Goodrich attends individual and group therapy sessions five or six times a week. “I always thought I could stay sober on my own, but when things get rough I found out that you need people you can talk to,” he said.

Goodrich also is working with the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center on making amends to Listen, where he was volunteering at the time of the break-in. I emailed Kyle Fisher, Listen’s executive director, to let him know that I had talked with Goodrich. “It is wonderful to hear that he is on a positive path and we will all continue to root for him here at Listen,” Fisher wrote back.

A Hartford High social studies teacher recently contacted Backus about having a Dismas resident or two speak to students in his class. Backus picked Goodrich. “He’s very articulate and honest,” Backus said.

Backus will turn to Goodrich again this Saturday when Dismas stages its Halloween-themed “Gory Daze 5K” run at Dothan Brook School in Hartford, starting at 10 a.m. While other Dismas residents will help with logistics at the event, which includes music, food and face painting, Goodrich is running the 3.1 miles. The event is an annual fundraiser for Dismas, which relies largely on private contributions to support its $257,000 annual operating budget. (More information and online registration is available at runsignup.com/gorydaze.)

Goodrich admits he hasn’t trained much — 2 miles is the farthest he’s run. “I’m just trying to be useful,” he said. “By the grace of Dismas, I’ve been given a second chance.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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