Gilbert ranch offers former addicts a fresh start

- A Gilbert ranch is offering former addicts a fresh start, with a long term residential rehab. 

The two-year John Volken Academy offers a program that focuses on work therapy. Rehab at the ranch is proving to be very successful for two former addicts.

"Now looking at 25 months," said Chase Smoot. "I can see how glorious my life can be, and all of the successes that come from sobriety."

Smoot and Robert Eggers are working hard at the John Volken Academy Welcome Home Ranch. They spend their days taking care of the 40-acre property. Both are working towards sobriety.

"Their responsibilities require them to put anywhere from 40 to 55 hours a week, and then hopefully, if we don't have any events, they get to have Sunday off to rest up, so we can start over again," said Ranch Manager Johnny Haggard. "There's a lot of to do when you have 120 head of horses to take care of."

Eggers began drinking and smoking marijuana at the age of 13. He eventually started taking uppers, which led him to use meth. When Eggers was 19, he got into a fight that put him in prison for five years.

Eggers came to the ranch on the day he got out of prison.

"People skills, dealing with stress, these are all things normal people do on a day to day basis," said Eggers. "Being an addict, I didn't know how to cope with it. If I got stressed out, I would use. Now if I'm stressed out, I talk about my feelings. I have to persevere through it, and that's a hard lesson to learn."   

Smoot, meanwhile, started drinking at 15. He started using heroin soon after. After years of abuse and no luck with other rehab facilities, Smoot decided to join the academy.

"Coming out here and putting in eight hours of hard work, it creates a change in people to actually realize if you put a lot of hard work and effort into something, that you can actually see the physical progression and change in your life," said Smoot.

The ranch is a two-year plus program for former addicts ages 18 to 32.

"One of the reasons why this program is successful is it gives the brain time to rest and to reset itself basically," said Haggard. "If they get some good peaceful night's rest, which you know addicts sometimes stay up most of the hours of the night, then the brain does get that time to do it."

Students pay a flat fee of $5,000, and everything else is taken care of. Haggard said the program helps the 25 to 30 students change their lives, and rid themselves of their addictions through work therapy.

"They advance and they learn all of the skills from taking care of the animals to working in the store to getting their integrity back, to be trusted with money. And then, they start learning skills like driving tractors, welding, mainly just learning to work and work hard, so that they can maintain a job when they get out."        

Haggard said the program uses the "each one teach one" philosophy.

"During the day, we'll have a more senior brother that will be working with the younger brother and the senior brother has maybe gone through the struggles for the first six months and he knows what the younger person is feeling and he can walk him through it. He can talk him through it."             

"Here at the Welcome Home Ranch, there's no bars," said Haggard. "There's no security, aside from the fences keeping the horses in. It's an open door policy. Students can feel free to leave at any time they want. The only thing keeping them here is the desire to change."  

"Knowing that you can walk down the road and go and find anything at the gas station on the corner you want, but you make that decision everyday not to, that's the most significant thing is actually having the confidence to say I want to leave, but I'm not going to because you know what you need to do to change your life," said Smoot.

If the students do decide to stay, there are rules to follow. Those include no dating, no cursing, and limited internet use. One will also have to be committed to cook, clean and work eight hours a day. 

"We wake up at five every morning," said Eggers. "We make our beds, we make sure our rooms are clean. We get checked off. We have a morning meeting which outlines the daily events. We eat our breakfast together as a family and then we go to work at six o'clock. We have responsibilities which we call them from 6 until 12 and then we have lunch for 30 minutes. We go back out to responsibilities and then we complete our 8 hour day Monday through Saturday."

It's not all work, however. Guest speakers often come to the property, and the students are taken to community events as a group. Those who have been in the program for a year can start taking college courses online. Two months before a person leaves, they are allowed to go off property alone and use a cell phone.

"It's meant to integrate you back into society," said Eggers. "You don't want to just be pushed out of the door. You want to have that slow transition so it's not such a shocker and you're given time to go off of the ranch and look for a job. Hang out with your friends as long as they're good for you. You can hang out with your family and enjoy fathers day with them."         

Although it's been a long journey that wasn't always easy, both Eggers and Smoot are looking forward to long-term healing, as well as the very bright future they see ahead.

"My future is more bright today then it has been in my entire 24 years," said Smoot. "I know now that I have the confidence to stay sober, but to be successful in whatever I do."

"I see a good job, I see a career, I see good relationships and I see an awesome family support system," said Eggers. "I see sobriety, and I see laughter and I love that."

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