By Stephen Montoya , Rio Rancho Observer staff writer
Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission. Find the original article here. Jennie Pierce is a Management Services Representative for Lexipol.
A group of retired New Mexico State Police Officers are giving back to the community by replacing jail time with class time.
The Alternative Sentencing Programs & Educational Networks of New Mexico, Inc., gives people convicted with a misdemeanor a chance to take a class in place of going to jail.
Kevin Boyd, ASPEN founder and retired New Mexico State Police officer, said he started this program in an attempt to give those convicted with a misdemeanor a second chance, with the knowledge they came close to some jail time.
ASPEN classes are focused on educating those convicted for a DWI and/or busted with drugs, he said.
“That’s where people fall down; that’s the problem we are basically having in our society today,” Boyd said. “Maybe it’s the bad crowd influence or the dare, ‘I bet you can’t,’ mentality, but when things go wrong, they go wrong fast.”
This $100 class consists of a PowerPoint presentation that includes information on the chemicals in certain drugs, their effects on people, court and legal issues, he said.
“There is no state or federal funding for this class,” Boyd said. “This program is funded by the five of us and the students who pay for the course.”
Rio Ranchoan Jennie Pierce, also a retired NMSP officer and instructor for the Rio Rancho ASPEN class, said she likes teaching the program because it allows her to use her knowledge as a mom to mentor troubled teens and young people.
“I hear the struggles of those who are battling addiction and the trials that they go through and try to relate,” Pierce said. “If there are 20 students, I hope I am able to influence at least one to change.”
Many of the ASPEN students thanked Pierce after class for her candid instructions and their receiving a second chance, she said.
“We learn from the students that we don’t have all of the answers,” Pierce said. “I didn’t do a lot of narcotics stuff in law enforcement, so I am doing a lot of learning from that side of it.”
ASPEN instructor and retired State Police Officer Chris Maes said he has been in this program for 12 years.
“We get very few repeat students come back into the program,” Maes said.
Believe it or not, “About 80 percent of the students come out of here with a different perspective and in one day we see the transformation of people.”
Some of the students in the ASPEN program have been convicted of non-violent felonies and can take the course to satisfy court requirements, but 90 percent have been convicted with a misdemeanor, he said.
“These students get funneled through the DA’s (District Attorney) system and eventually their charge is dismissed,” Maes said. “What it does in municipal and magistrate court is it gives the offender a differed sentence and eventually they get the charges dismissed, not go away, it stays on their record but they get a dismissal.
Adam Avila, a former ASPEN student convicted of a misdemeanor, said he had his doubts about the effectiveness of the program when he first walked in.
“I didn’t think this class was going to change my mind about doing anything different with my life,” Avila said.
But after listening to the instructor’s different presentations, Avila said he started to understand the information.
“Going to the class was a real eye-opener on the impact I could have on other people’s lives, rather than just my own” Avila said. “That’s what made me think the most about changing my life.”
Avila now works full-time and is going to college to earn his associate’s degree in business, he said.
“The job I am working at right now is giving me a lot of insight on how a business should run, especially one that’s just starting out,” Avila said.
Starting a business is now the main thing on Avila’s agenda of things to do and get done for his future, he said.
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