An infrastructure of dignity. That is the real bedrock of a socially-innovative, multifunction arena launched today in California and headlined tonight by comedians Dave Chappelle and slappee-of-the-year Chris Rock.
Mechanical feats at Palm Springs’ $300 million Acrisure Arena, such as the 12 miles of underground piping which give the Coachella Valley Firebirds (and fans) a new ice hockey rink in the desert, are only one aspect of the engineering at play.
The most distinctive, consequential investments at the 11,000-seat venue are in human potential, according to the arena’s social impact partner, Stand Together – a non-partisan philanthropic foundation dedicated to coordinating pragmatic, individually-empowering yet socially inclusive solutions to America’s often interlocked ‘hard problems’ in crime and punishment, addiction, health, education, and other areas.
Behind the scenes, and out front with its games, concerts, and events, the Oak View Group-operated Acrisure Arena will model what works.
“Second-chance hiring is a great example,” said Stand Together CEO Brian Hooks. “The arena will show the country that people who are returning from prison have a lot of valuable skills to offer to help companies and the communities that businesses exist within.”
Managed well, second-chance hiring is a proven, pragmatic method of reducing rates of reoffending – the avowed goal of any correctional system – Hooks said, adding that it has a moral core: “It goes to the heart of how we as a society treat people – if we recognize that everybody has dignity, and nobody should be judged for the rest of their life based on the worst day they’ve had.”
Acrisure Arena and employers like it become vital links in a chain of healing and rehabilitation, Hooks said. Other links in the chain include improvements to education inside prisons followed up by helping released prisoners get established with social security numbers, ID, and other necessities for the outside: reforms included at a Federal level in the bipartisan First Step Act passed in 2018 after many years of development and lobbying.
An associated ‘hard problem’ to be in the spotlight at the arena is addiction – something of enormous consequence in a country where the annual death toll from overdoses keeps climbing and now exceeds 100,000.
“Those numbers are really hard to even get your head around – that’s twice the number of Americans that died in the entire Vietnam War now dying every year in this country because of addiction,” said Hooks, who, with Stand Together has long advocated for an end to the War on Drugs, and decriminalization aimed at treating addiction as a health problem rather than an essentially criminal matter.
He also argues for a new approach to recovery. “As well intentioned and useful as some of the addiction recovery programs in this country can be, many boast a recovery rate of about 40%. Which means the failure rate is 60%,” said Hooks.
The ‘transformational solution’ that is showing results twice as successful – recovery rates above 80% – has an unconventional premise, Hooks said. It focuses on people’s strengths instead of their deficiencies: it aims at the abilities and potential that will improve their lives instead of on the struggle that is keeping them down.
Such approaches “have a deep belief in the people that are struggling and in giving them a sense of community,” Mr Hooks said. “They say, ‘How can we help you find your strengths?’” Stand Together has for several years partnered with The Phoenix, a free sober community originally from Denver, CO, that Hooks reports as achieving an 85% success rate.
Acrisure Arena will feature sober spaces and drinking areas at events and promotion of The Phoenix, and this approach will be in partnership with musicians. “A lot of people in the music industry have a lot of experience with losing people to addiction,” Hooks said. “So there’s real passion on the part of a lot of artists and folks in the industry.”
This has been happening already at festivals such as Kentucky’s Bourbon & Beyond, where The Phoenix set up sober spaces and artists including Robert Randolph of Robert Randolph and the Family Band spoke about being an ally to those struggling.
“We’re all about believing in people, and the arena’s gonna be a great touch point for this overall effort,” Hooks said.
After tonight’s Chappelle and Rock comedy showcase, upcoming shows include the Doobie Brothers, Grupo Firme, and Maroon 5, plus a season of hockey.
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