This is the first of a two part article about the Alternative Sentencing Program.
Since its inception in 2002, the Alternative Sentencing Program & Educational Network program has kept 40,000 New Mexicans out of jail and given them the tools to stay out of jail if they want to. ASPEN was founded by now Magistrate Judge K.C. Rogers along with Dusty Peterson and Kevin Boyd, all retired state police officers.
“I had done 21 years or so with the state police,” Rogers said. “Most of that was narcotic work. I was working under cover and buying drugs for a living. I went from being in charge of criminal investigations, to investigating murders and significant crimes.”
Retiring from the state police at 40 left Rogers feeling a need to do more.
“I really hadn’t done anything except be a law enforcement officer,” he said. “So, I sat down and tried to figure a way that I could make a living serving the community.”
Something he hadn’t been able to do as a police officer, but was now free to do, seemed like the perfect answer.
“In ASPEN, we have people from all aspects of law enforcement,” Rogers said. “What they have said, over and over again, is how rewarding it is to be able to explain these things to people so that they understand. But we couldn’t do that when we were in law enforcement.”
So he developed the Second Chance-Life Values Program.
“I did it with the assistance of a couple of other guys,” Rogers said. “I had a couple of friends, Dusty Peterson and Kevin Boyd, who were both state police under cover narcotics officers. I had worked with them for a long time. I asked them to help me with information on certain subjects. It kind of turned into a group project. We all thought this was what we really needed to be doing, teaching criminals about the system.”
The program is an educational program that works as a stand alone program or with other programs.
“There are other programs in the court systems all over the United States, that are crime specific,” Rogers said. “But, oftentimes, substance abuse issues are there.”
They saw the need to help people work through bad choices and learn why and how to make better ones.
“We decided we needed to give them good, intelligent information,” Rogers said, “because we believe that most people are good people. Most people make bad decisions sometimes. So we developed this program that starts at the very beginning, and circles around through our system and through decision making, and comes back to the very beginning again.”
Rogers is no longer connected to the ASPEN program. When he became a magistrate judge he had to give up all interest in it to avoid a conflict of interest.
“I say ‘we’ when I talk about ASPEN,” Rogers said, “but I don’t have anything to do with this program anymore. When I got appointed magistrate judge I had to step away from ASPEN. If I intended to utilize the program, I could not have any gain from the program, so I resigned from the corporation and gave the company away and that allows me to sentence people to it.”
Former sheriff Rob Coon became affiliated with the program in 2016. He is enjoying the new direction his work has taken him.
“I always tell them that for 42 years my job was to put them in jail,” Coon said. “Now it’s to keep them out of jail.”
Coon explained how the classes are organized.
“It’s a four-part program delivered by PowerPoint in a classroom setting and all the instructors are retired New Mexico state police officers,” Coon said. “The first part deals with the courts, jails and legal system. We strongly emphasize how behaviors lead to the problems that got them all together in the class.
“The second part deals specifically with the negative effects of breaking any laws in our society. DWI, shoplifting, marijuana and suspended license are some of the major areas of discussion. The third part deals specifically with alcohol and drug problems. The fourth part is the self-help section to wrap up the program and to associate how committing crimes affects the entire family and society.”
Along with the structure, they offer resources to help their students.
“We offer resources to the class for assistance with suicide, domestic abuse, sexually transmitted disease, depression and anxiety. The class is designed to make offenders think about their behaviors and how they can make a few changes to better their lives.”
Rogers said every class starts off the same way.
“The first thing that takes place in the program is that the individuals are given rules about how they conduct themselves and what they do in the class,” he said. “If they don’t follow those rules there will be repercussions, they will be removed from the class. Which means they have now violated whatever it was they were ordered to do.”
Once the formalities are out of they way, they get down to business.
“From establishing the rules it goes to ‘what is your crime?’” Rogers said. “We’re not asking if you are guilty or innocent, we want to know what you were charged with. We use it later because we’re going to come back and talk about what they got charged with. From there, we move into how laws are made. Laws are nothing but rules. We explain why we have them, and why they come about.
“People don’t even realize that in the past we didn’t even arrest people for DWIs. In the old days, we didn’t think anything about it. We became No. 1 in the United States for killing people, but we still didn’t do anything about it. Then one day a gentleman killed an entire family on Christmas Eve (Gordon House) and we knew we had to do something about it.”
With this and other illustrations, the students begin to see things from a new perspective.
“After we explain that they begin to understand why what they were charged with is against the law. Then we talk about how to get caught. We tell them, ‘you ran a red light and when you did you invited a police officer into your life. You gave him everything he needed to stick his nose in your business. And when he walked up to the car, you rolled the window down and it looked like a Cheech and Chong movie.’ Then they start to understand.”
It’s important for the student to know that all of their decisions are still on them.
“The understanding in the ASPEN class is, it’s OK if you choose to continue the lifestyle that got you here, but you have to accept the repercussions,” Rogers said. “Cops are like old ladies in a knitting circle. They’ll tell everyone they know, ‘hey, if you see Bob in the big white pickup truck, he’s always got weed on him.’ So then Bob runs a red light and as he’s being pulled over the cop thinks to himself, ‘I wonder if this is the Bob guy who always has weed?’ and then he knows because he can smell it.
“We push on them that these are things that you can change. A miracle does not take place and you suddenly understand how you’re supposed to live. It takes time and practice.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.