An­drew Mon­toya

At-risk teen ad­vo­cate, men­tor An­drew Mon­toya

Tradiciones Heroes - - Contents - by John Miller

He flung the lit­tle bone-col­ored cubes, and they all watched as they hit the card­board, tum­bled, shifted and set­tled flat.

The black dots came up. Six. Mon­toya moved in his uni­form to slide his piece to a valu­able square of real es­tate. Af­ter a few turns, he had bought and built on prop­er­ties that seemed to po­si­tion him for an easy win.

As they cir­cled the board, the youth de­tainees — cousins from Col­fax County who had picked up petty crimes — shared lit­tle pieces of their sto­ries, minute de­tails hid­den in jokes or brief anec­dotes that sug­gested why they had wound up at the Taos County Ju­ve­nile De­ten­tion Cen­ter in the first place.

They re­minded Mon­toya, 39, of friends he had grown up with in a neigh­bor­hood of tract homes in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia. There, Mon­toya said he had known kids who be­came in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity or drug use at a young age. Some wound up home­less, of­ten be­cause their par­ents worked so many jobs or were so deep in ad­dic­tion it was like they weren’t around at all.

Pretty soon, Mon­toya was at the school yard in San Jose again, hear­ing fa­mil­iar voices in kids he’d only just met.

He’d go bank­rupt lis­ten­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion.

“I had my money all or­ga­nized,” Mon­toya re­called. “I knew where all my prop­er­ties were … Maybe they had it mem­o­rized be­cause they’d played it so many times. Bot­tom line was, they killed me.”

He checked in with his su­per­vi­sor down the hall. “I should be work­ing,” he said.

“You are work­ing,” they replied. “You’re lis­ten­ing to ev­ery­thing they say.”

An­drew Mon­toya poses for a por­trait out­side the de­ten­tion cen­ter. Pho­tos by­mor­gan Timms An­drew Mon­toya grasped a set of dice in a loose fist and gave them a shake be­fore his roll, uncertain as ever as to how they might land, but sure the two teens dressed in jail blues on ei­ther side of the game board stood lit­tle chance.

It was Mon­toya’s first day as an of­fi­cer at the old youth jail in Taos County, a clean, in­dus­trial-look­ing fa­cil­ity lo­cated be­hind the adult jail.

Some of the adult de­tainees on the other side of the com­plex had started in the same place as the teens Mon­toya met that day, play­ing board games or shoot­ing hoops in the recre­ation yard. Some would go on to com­mit more se­ri­ous crimes later in life while oth­ers would come to the youth jail once, maybe twice, then Mon­toya would never see them again.

He re­turned to the youth de­ten­tion cen­ter for the next 11 years, at­tain­ing the rank of lieu­tenant by the time it moved to its new lo­ca­tion at the Taos County Court­house Com­plex on Albright Street.

Through­out his ca­reer, Mon­toya ded­i­cated him­self to keep­ing youth out of the jail while striv­ing to keep its doors open for at-risk youth that still needed sup­port in the coun­ties the jail served: Taos, Mora, Union, Col­fax and Clay.

His first day on the job changed his view as to what youth de­ten­tion ought to be, but dur­ing an in­ter­view in 2015 for a job at a youth de­ten­tion cen­ter in Sonoma County, Cal­i­for­nia, he said he learned about what he de­scribes as “ev­i­dence-based prac­tices.”

The jail di­rec­tor showed him pro­grams they had cre­ated for youth that sought to equip them with the sta­bil­ity, skills and con­fi­dence that could help set them on a bet­ter course.

‘It was sim­ple stuff: teach­ing kids how to tie a tie, teach­ing the kids to cook, teach­ing the kids how to be healthy,’ Mon­toya said.

He turned the job down, but the pro­grams left an im­pres­sion. He re­turned to the youth jail in Taos with the in­ten­tion to model his own style of de­ten­tion af­ter what he had seen in Cal­i­for­nia.

“I started try­ing to bring in as many vol­un­teer-based pro­grams as I could,” he said. “I re­ally thought I was go­ing to have a bud­get for all of this, but what I found was that there were a lot of peo­ple in the com­mu­nity that were will­ing to vol­un­teer and make these changes hap­pen.”

He re­cruited mem­bers of the Taos com­mu­nity to teach classes. Metta Theatre Di­rec­tor Bruce Mcin­tosh came in two days a week to teach act­ing and im­prov. A nurse would come in on Wed­nes­days to teach ba­sic health and an­swer ques­tions some de­tainees couldn’t ask else­where. On Thurs­days, Suki Dalury would come to teach yoga. Vol­un­teers from the lo­cal school district would come in to teach Mon­day through Fri­day.

Mon­toya saw the pro­grams be­come suc­cess­ful, but partly due to that suc­cess, the num­ber of youth at the jail be­gan to dwin­dle.

“We had ca­pac­ity to hold 18,” he said. “Twelve males and six fe­males. We were rarely at ca­pac­ity.”

The pos­i­tive out­comes Mon­toya was achiev­ing raised a ques­tion as to whether the high cost of run­ning the youth jail — just un­der $900,000 a year, he es­ti­mated — jus­ti­fied keep­ing it open.

On May 15, the Taos County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers voted to close it down. But since the fa­cil­ity shut its doors June 30, Mon­toya has been work­ing to re­open the va­cated space as a res­i­den­tial treat­ment cen­ter for at-risk youth.

This sum­mer, he and mem­bers of Non­vi­o­lence Works in Taos have been in touch with Michael Bron­son, who works at the New Mex­ico Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies Di­vi­sion, which op­er­ates a res­i­den­tial cen­ter in Al­bu­querque. They pro­posed they part­ner to cre­ate a sim­i­lar treat­ment cen­ter to serve North­ern New Mex­ico.

“Res­i­den­tial treat­ment would stretch a lot fur­ther be­cause there are a lot more kids that need that than need de­ten­tion,” Mon­toya said.

Mon­toya en­vi­sions a ren­o­va­tion of the youth jail that would make it feel more like a home, where kids deal­ing with ad­dic­tion is­sues, fam­ily trou­ble or other prob­lems can have a safe space to go.

The lieu­tenant hopes to bring back pro­grams pre­vi­ously of­fered to youth de­tainees, but he’d also like to take res­i­dents on “field trips” — into the moun­tains to go hik­ing, or to the river to go fish­ing, ac­tiv­i­ties he par­took in when he would come visit his rel­a­tives in Taos County on sum­mer break from school in San Jose.

But while he con­tin­ues to work to­ward that goal with Non­vi­o­lence Works, he says it’s up to the peo­ple of Taos County to form a com­mu­nity “that re­ally pulls to­gether” to look out for its at-risk youth.

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