Skip to main content

A place for troubled souls

  • Author:
  • Updated:

TUCSON, Ariz. – For 24-year-old Anita, a member of Southern Arizona’s Pasqua-Yaqui tribe, it was an escape from a reservation where every street had its resident dealers and ample supplies of drugs – from street variety to designer product – were always in stock.

For 24-year-old Christina, a Navajo Diné from Northern Arizona, it represented compliance with court-ordered mandates and a chance to work at breaking away from a methamphetamine habit and a crowd that had no desire to quit that habit.

For Pamela Jay, director of Amity Circle Tree Ranch outside Tucson, it represented two more troubled souls who would be welcomed into the teaching and therapeutic community that has a long history of success. Jay has been working to make this a better planet with healthier inhabitants since the 1960s when the Berkeley, Calif., resident realized her mission in life would be to help others help themselves.

With more than 35 years in addiction services, the 50-acre ranch campus – built in 1929 as the winter home of the Westinghouse family – has been cited for its success by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and called “one of the nation’s most successful treatment programs” by newsman Walter Cronkite.

The curriculum represents six decades of work with therapeutic communities, a compilation of methodologies to reduce recidivism, enhance retention and motivate students to
pursue growth and learning.

Study materials address many of the problems students face from domestic violence and abandonment to dysfunctional families, loneliness and failure. Students build bridges back toward citizenship and in the process develop life skills to live successfully in the outside world.

“We believe individuals can change and our program can leave people, places and situations better than we found them,” said Jay, citing some of the curriculum mantra. “Community is the antidote to personal alienation. The way out is to let others in. You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone.”

Philosophies like that have been a part of the recovery paradigms and both Anita and Christina are hopeful they will soon return to their people to spread that word. The magnitude of the drug and alcohol problem in Native American communities is staggering and attested to by the volume of indigenous peoples in the Circle Tree Ranch program.“More than a third of our students belong to this ethnic group,” Jay said.

The problem is so large it can be likened to a monsoon thunderstorm that grows dark and threatening before it finally bursts loose. These two students represent just two drops in the massive cloudburst, but they intend to make their presence felt in a positive way. Again, part of the philosophy they are learning: “We learn to listen and listen to learn and we grow through our dedication to learning. We cannot integrate what we have learned unless we teach it – we can’t keep it until we give it away.”

As part of the Amity Foundation, Circle Tree Ranch subscribes to the alternative code of “Re-Membering, Re-Solving, Re-Conciliation, and Response-Ability,” a curriculum that not only deals with drug abuse, but teaches people how to become more human. As one student put it, “There’s a better way of life out there that can be achieved – if you accept the help.”

“Our curriculum follows the ancient symbol of the medicine wheel recognizing that we must find balance in our lives, both within and without,” Jay said. This healing and growth process follows Native cultural tradition in the use of talking circles and weekly opportunities for an on-site visit to a sweat lodge.

Ron Arvizu, a Tucson-born, first became acquainted with Amity when he was ordered to show up.

“I was sent here as an adult by a judge who decided to take a chance on me and not throw me away like I was thrown away as a juvenile. I had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and trips to prison, but no more.

“During my stay, I learned when you pray to the spirits and are heard and healed, the spirits ask for something in return. Now I pour water at the sweat lodge as a volunteer, sing and pray to help others heal. It helps us all in staying grounded, centering ourselves and getting our lives back in balance because we all come here for the same reason.”