CAL 1: True Recovery: The First Step

Introduction to our “CAL” Blog Series

“What it Takes to Change a Life”

Dr. Joseph White & the FFL Team

What does it take for someone to change their life?

There may be crossroads in our life when it becomes clear that change is desperately needed – and taking those genuine, sincere first steps can be the hardest part of the change process.  The Foundation for Family Life’s mission is to empower individuals and families to improve their lives through quality programs and services.  We envision people experiencing hope, growth, and harmony and believe they can succeed and thrive, even through difficult challenges.

This is the first in a series of posts that highlight our mission and what it takes for clients to ultimately change their lives.  The Foundation for Family Life (FFL) has developed two programs specifically for those with substance abuse challenges transitioning from incarceration.  These programs are designed to equip those who want to change with the tools and resources necessary to make sustainable, lasting change.  We never push; we only invite.  In fact, clients often come back if they aren’t ready the first time around.

MentorWorks is our healthy transition home program (sober living) that serves as a welcoming safe haven during the critical first few hours, days, and months of release from incarceration.  It provides a warm bed, food, clothing, transportation, employment assistance, recovery-oriented peer support, and an important recovery community, among other things.  FFL’s Redwood Recovery provides an intensive outpatient substance abuse program that addresses a variety of relevant issues for those early in recovery and recently released from incarceration.  Our IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) helps clients get their mental health needs met, supports them in creating successful treatment plans and relapse prevention plans, and provides a host of professional support through therapists, case managers, structured group meetings, and certified peer support specialists. 

The overarching goal from the creation of these programs has been to provide the most effective tools, resources, and environments in which successful recovery can happen.  The fundamental components of this framework were derived from a spiritual perspective that lies at the core of our work and being: we are sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and, as such, we all make mistakes and deserve second chances.  We do not promote a religious, sermonizing, proselytizing, lecturing, “God Squad” type of relationship with deity.  Rather, we simply acknowledge the divinity within each of us and allow that to guide our relationships and decision-making as a program.  

One of my favorite definitions of spirituality comes from Father Leo Booth who said, “Spirituality is that which enables the growth of positive and creative values in the human being… and points to the power and strength that exists in all of us” (1984, p. 141).  He talks about how spirituality unites everything towards healing!  For him, spirituality recalls the oneness of creation, promotes inclusion and acceptance of different cultures, and invokes a system of values inherent within us, like honesty, humility, humor, and hope.  The work we do at the Foundation for Family Life fully embraces Father Booth’s rich insights and perspective on this most fundamental principle of life itself.  As he said, “Spirituality is not to be discovered ‘out there’ but rather exists within the beauty of every individual.”  We agree and are honored to have the opportunity to work with individuals whom society has often thrown away and dismissed but who still have beauty within themselves.  In fact, recovery is like planting a garden – it requires effort, patience, and persistence, but overtime yields great rewards (watch for garden metaphors throughout this blog series).  The great paydays come not when they are released from incarceration, but when the emotional shackles start coming off, when the cloud of life’s beatdowns starts to fade, and the light begins to shine in their eyes!  It is unmistakable.  It is rich.  It is powerful.

Early in the MentorWorks program we conducted a one year follow-up with our small group of graduates.  We found only 17% recidivated (re-incarcerated) as compared to 72% recidivating from the Salt Lake County jail a year later.  We knew we were doing something right and have attributed it to our foundation of spirituality, service, accountability, and recovery support.  Call it what you will, but that is how we saw it then, and that approach still guides our work today.  

This “behind-the-scenes” look in our recovery work will shed light on the addiction recovery process.  We share what the process looks like from beginning to end – from progressing through phases of treatment to becoming a graduate and legacy member.  As part of telling our story, we will highlight a few successes and failures of individuals in our program – their efforts to get a job, build healthy relationships, perform service, etc. – and what their lives look like down the road. Our blog series will include the following content: Admittance and Intake, First Day, Adjusting to Life in Recovery, Progression Levels, Transition into Daily Life, Relapse and Relapse Prevention, Long Term Recovery and Success Plans, and Graduation and Success Stories.

Our Invitation

Our invitation is to join us in this blog series to better understand our recovery mission.  We highlight our recovery process designed to help those desperately seeking a new life.  Its purpose is to provide hope, peace, and insight for anyone trying to recover or help those in recovery.  There is comfort in knowing loved ones can find hope and move forward in healthy and successful ways.  Please feel free to share an experience or ask questions below.


For me (Dr. White), this work is personal.  I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic and high school dropout with two DUIs (the first-an accident that almost took mine and my brother’s life).  By the Grace of God I am now a husband, father, and grandfather.  My life is blessed beyond measure, but getting here wasn’t easy.  I had years of doing stupid things that led me in and out of jails until one incarceration experience in which God made it clear that my next stop was the “Big House” – prison.  For some reason my heart softened, and in “AA Speak,” I surrendered my life to a Higher Power.  It probably had to do with two scriptures my cellmate shared with me: Ephesians 6:10-18 and Proverbs 3:5-6.  They came at just the right time – when I was ready and able to ponder and fully embrace their principles.  It turns out I love to learn.  I discovered college and ultimately became a “GED with a PhD.”  After serving as a professor in the marriage and family studies field for a decade in South Dakota and Nebraska, I was recruited to work in the private sector with a company out of Utah doing research and evaluation for clients around the country.  When that gig dried up, I was divinely led to create the Foundation for Family Life.  I wanted to make sure it partly focused on giving back to those transitioning from incarceration and taking the necessary steps to change their lives.  Thus was born the MentorWorks and Redwood Recovery programs.  One final caveat that provides a little background into this professional path. . . .  During my master’s degree, I became interested in understanding the psychosocial development of inmates and studied that process for my thesis by interviewing new inmates at the Utah State Prison (see White & Jones, 1996).  Then, as I was working on my dissertation in my PhD program at Texas Tech, I was inspired to follow up on my thesis work by studying spirituality and psychosocial development among individuals following incarceration with sobriety ranging from a few days to 32 years.  One of my publications from that study has direct empirical influence on the spiritual foundation of which we speak – Indicators of spiritual development in recovery from alcohol and other drug problems (White, Wampler, & Fischer, 2001).  My personal journey to recovery directly influenced my professional interests and field of study.  It has been my privilege to work with many great people on both sides of this enormous societal challenge – those caught up in addiction and seeking recovery and those with a desire to serve.  I hope these blogs provide some insight for both.  Godspeed.

See Other Blogs in our “Change a Life” Series:


  • Booth, L. (1984). The Gauntlet of Spirituality. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 1(1), 139-141.
  • White, J. M., & Jones, R. J. (1996). Identity styles of male inmates. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23(3), 490-504.
  • White, J. M., Wampler, R. S., & Fischer, J. L. (2001). Indicators of spiritual development in recovery from alcohol and other drug problems. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 19(1), 19-36.