“Our traditional preventative law programs are just a few briefings showing slides with metrics on them,” said Capt. Joseph Cachuela, 60th AMW Legal Office attorney. “But that doesn’t hit home for anyone. Nobody is going to remember or care about that.”
Dubbed True North, the program focuses on immersing Airmen in an environment that shows them the direct consequences of a bad decision or action. Partnering with the California Medical Facility, in Vacaville, California, True North showcases the full spectrum of the judicial process including incarceration.
Those participating in the program begin the day within the Travis courtroom, learning about each step involved in the judicial process of a court martial. During this time, they also meet and hear the firsthand account of an Airman who has previously undergone a court martial proceeding.
“The bread and butter of the courtroom portion of the program is to have an Airman who has been convicted in a court martial share their story,” said Cachuela. “There is some humanity to it. They see someone just like them. They see how easy it is to make a mistake that can lead you down a bad path.”
Master Sgt. Stephen Dugan, 60th Medical Surgical Operations Squadron first sergeant, said it can change lives.
“It shows them the big picture of what a court martial does to a person, how it can break you down and how isolated you become,” said Dugan. “It’s powerful.”
From the courtroom, Airmen are then taken a few miles down the road to CMF, a male-only state prison medical facility.
During the infant stages of the program, coordinators used the “scared straight” approach when visiting the prison facility, but have since determined that it wasn’t an effective way to generate positive change.
“The program has greatly evolved from where we first started,” said Dugan. “We determined that that’s not the model we needed. We concluded that taking people who are influential within their social groups was far more effective.”
Dugan said that the theory behind the program is similar to the model used within the Air Force-wide Green Dot program -- relying on individuals to influence their peers to make better decisions during day-to-day life.
“Peer influence is way stronger than me telling somebody what’s going to happen when they go to a court martial or me reading off an AFI (Air Force Instruction) saying you can’t do this,” said Dugan. “I think that is the strongest tool we have to slow some of the trends we have on this base.”
The most impactful portion of the program is the visit to the prison itself. Participants meet with inmates, hear their stories and tour nearly every aspect of prison life.
“It has kind of formed into more of a mentorship program. There are some uncomfortable situations during this trip. But they are put there for cause,” said Dugan. “It’s a real look into how life really works. It opens people’s eyes of what consequence to poor choices can be.”
Dugan added that his involvement in the program has left a lasting impact on his own life.
“It makes me look back on things I’ve done in my life and how close I could have been in the same situation,” he said. “You look at things differently.”
Since True North’s inception earlier this year approximately 50 Airmen have participated in the program.
“We are hoping that the message taken from this program is that you can recognize when you’re in a bad situation and get yourself or your friends out of it,” Dugan said. “We are talking to people who maybe stayed later than they should have, who may have had one more drink and decided to drive home or let that moment of anger get the better of them.
“If we can change the life of just one person, than the entire program was a success."