Durango home welcomes the convicted and downtrodden
DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — Gerry Geraghty’s private house is a revolving door for people hoping to overcome their run-ins with the law.
Since 2001, he estimates more than 100 people have taken shelter in his six-bedroom home — some are addicts, some are ex-convicts, others are just down on their luck.
Some are also like Geraghty, whose mother was an alcoholic and whose wife, Lauren, is a recovering addict.
“In many ways, these men and women in jail and people suffering from addiction are like orphans,” he said. “They’ve lost friends and family because of their criminal behavior. This is a home where people can land after getting out of jail or prison and have a safe, supportive living environment.”
Each person who stays there has a personal story of struggle.
“There was a grandmother living in the homeless shelter that I met at church, and she lived with us for 10 years until she got housing on 32nd Street,” he said. “She had nowhere to go.”
Another woman lived in the Geraghty house after her husband divorced her and kicked her out.
“Those two women didn’t have criminal records, but they were lost and broken,” he said. “Coming to live with us repaired their lives. That is one end of the spectrum, and the other is people who come from prison.”
MOVING PAST FEAR
Geraghty’s house, named Phoenix Fellowship after the bird in Greek mythology that is born again from the ashes of its predecessor, operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and sober-living home. He and Lauren started sheltering people 17 years ago.
Geraghty was driven to this full-time job because of his family’s history and his deeply-held Christian beliefs.
Even after having children — their sons are 12 and 14 — Geraghty’s conviction to help ex-convicts never wavered. He said people often ask him if he is ever afraid living with men and women after their release from jail. His response is always the same: No.
None of his clients has perpetrated crimes against him or his family, he said.
“God gave us this house and passion, and we trust that he will take care of us and our safety,” Geraghty said. “But we aren’t foolish. ... We’ve called the police before.”
Tenants are required to sign a contract and follow a set of rules that includes abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
“I don’t have a test for people to get in,” he said. “We go over the contract with them beforehand and they have to agree to it. We’ve given second and third chances to some people.”
The Geraghtys receive some private donations, but most money comes from rent the tenants are required to pay. Tenants live downstairs with a shared bathroom and kitchen. A private bedroom is $440 a month and a shared bedroom is $270, including utilities.
Typically, three people live with them at any given time, but they’ve had as many as six people living with them at once.
“When I have an opening, I put out calls to probation officers and Axis Health to see who they recommend,” Geraghty said.
He also visits the jail two to three times a week to show movies and offer Bible study as part of Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, a Christian nonprofit that serves in correctional facilities.
“The movies that I show are specifically chosen to demonstrate proper male character,” he said. “These are the lepers of our society, and my passion is to be alongside them. Not to judge or lecture but to love them.”
Geraghty sometimes attends drug court if his tenants are involved. Over the years, he has networked with probation officers and judges at the La Plata County Courthouse.
“At times, I’m allowed to speak on behalf of someone and say they have support and are living at a sober-living home,” he said. “There are times judges have let people out early because they knew they’d come to our house to live.”
The Geraghty family welcomes tenants with open arms. They go to church together. They play games and watch movies together.
The goal is for tenants to find a sense of normalcy in their lives and to be reintegrated into society, Geraghty said.
Lauren understands some of the tenants’ struggles because she has experienced them. She has been sober for 31 years.
“We make a good team because she can get in their face and tell them what to do because she’s part of that club,” he said. “She’s in recovery and still goes to meetings from time to time.”
But not everyone finds comfort in what the Geraghtys do at Phoenix House.
In February 2013, their neighbors on Rio Vista Circle objected to their decision to house William Vollert, a sexually violent predator.
Vollert was one of three such identified predators living in La Plata County at the time. He was 20 when he had sex with a 14-year-old girl and pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault on a child.
Angela Lokken, who lives three houses down from the Geraghtys, said she feels uncomfortable with some of the people who live at Phoenix House.
“It is what it is,” she said. “We don’t like it, but they don’t bother me. I don’t know these people, so who am I to judge? I could just be being prejudiced.”
Other neighbors contacted for this story did not respond to requests for comment.
Vollert was not the only sex offender to live in his house, and Geraghty said he stands by the decision to help him.
“When Will came to live with us, it was gold because his mom dropped him off, and within 20 minutes, he was having a Nerf war with our kids and their friends,” he said. “He was having a fun time without any substance abuse.”
The Geraghtys focus on people struggling with substance abuse because they believe drugs and alcohol are the foundation for criminal behavior.
“When you use, you do not have rational thinking. ... You can do just about anything,” he said. “I’m not a criminologist, but when they are off the substance, they have their lives back. It is like a demon; it enslaves them and has them on a chain, so to speak.”
Jesse Rose was one of three men living at the Geraghty house in February. Rose’s criminal record shows a long history of substance abuse, including methamphetamine and heroin.
Rose said he started using drugs at a young age and began stealing to pay for his addiction.
“I caught my first felony when I was 18,” he said. “I went to prison for 18 months, and when I got out, all I did was party.”
He racked up more than 10 property and theft crimes in La Plata County alone.
“I’ve done violent things, but I’m not a violent person,” he said. “I could never hurt anyone physically.”
Rose spoke to The Durango Herald on Feb. 21. He was arrested the next day — less than a week after moving into the Geraghty house - and booked into the La Plata County Jail on suspicion of using methamphetamine.
Before his arrest, Rose said he was thankful for the structure at the Geraghty house.
“It’s hard going from the lifestyle I was living before to now,” he said. “It has slowed down a lot, which is a great thing, but it’s hard to adjust.”
Geraghty has watched many different tenants fall off the wagon — Rose included.
“We’ve had a lot of rough roads and tough situations,” he said. “Sometimes police have to come here in the middle of the night.”
Leverette Begay, who has lived with the Geraghtys for almost six months, suffered a relapse in November and spent about a month in jail before moving back in December.
Since then, he has found a job at McDonald’s and is making more efforts to stay on track with his sobriety.
“It’s reassuring to have a safe place to live and with good people who acknowledge my sobriety,” he said. “I enjoy going to church with them because it helps to get my head right.”
Information from: Durango Herald, http://www.durangoherald.com