Driven by Hope
"Hope is in all of us, we just need to look in that direction.”
– Jared Dennis
"When I was a kid growing up, I didn’t want to be a cop. I was a wild kid,” remembers Jared Dennis, now a detective with the Dillon Police Department. He’s sitting with his wife of two years, Taneil, in the entry room of Low Oxygen Crossfit gym in Frisco, the company he bought just before COVID hit. Physically chiseled, emotionally steady, and intensely forthright, Dennis struggles for composure only a few times during our two-hour conversation, including when he shares about the man who changed his life.
“I became a cop because I met a cop who was really kind to me. As a kid I would skateboard all the time; I was kind of a smart-ass and that attitude always dug me a hole, but this cop was different; always friendly and kind to me, like he somehow believed in me,” Dennis remembers. “He made it seem to me like if there were more like him, it would make a difference in the world. The way one negative person can change your outlook, it’s the same with one positive person.”
Jared Dennis says he tries to be that one positive person who can change lives. Sharing the details of his life over the last four years, including domestic violence (a charge since dropped) and drunk on duty charges; intense public criticism, family mental health issues, the loss of his job, kids and house, it’s sometimes hard to imagine enduring – let alone maintaining a positive outlook. Asked how he made it through the darkest times, he leans gently on Taneil, clearly counting her as part of his equation. “She’s been my rock,” he says. He points to the gym behind us and the healing aspects of exercise; and he talks about his love for and commitment to his kids. “I didn’t make excuses as to why things happened,” he says. “I just found reasons as to why I should go on. I was driven by hope and didn’t let things take me down.”
He lifts the cap sleeve of his T-shirt to expose an array of tattoos. Melded in amongst the art that dances across his bicep is the phrase, “This too shall pass.”
Jared Dennis believes that all things happen for a reason. And as hard as the last four years have been, he says he’s become mentally and emotionally stronger; has a broader perspective of the criminal justice system and of the important role mental health support should play. He’s reminded daily of the importance of family and the love of a good partner. And he can’t remember when he had his last drink.
Sure, he has guilt; he knows he’s made mistakes, but he says he tries not to have guilt around the things he can’t control. He says that “keeping hope alive has brought new opportunities into my life, and I choose to be grateful for those rather than bitter about things in the past.”
The gym was one such opportunity. “We bought this gym during COVID,” he says. “We knew if we could make it through that, we could make it through anything.” So far so good. With 80+ members, a healthy number of walk-ins and 40 classes per week, the gym hums with activity.
"Keeping hope alive has brought new opportunities into my life, and
I choose to be grateful for those rather than bitter about things in the past."
One of those walk-ins was Ian Acker, executive director of Fit To Recover, a nonprofit gym and community center for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol in Salt Lake City. Visiting relatives for a week in July, Acker bought a 5-day pass to Low Oxygen. Dennis and Acker hit it off, talking about the importance of exercise to mental wellness and recovery, and the lack of such a program directed specifically to a recovery population in Summit County.
With support from Building Hope, Dennis and Taneil traveled to Salt Lake City in October to learn the exercise recovery curriculum designed by Fit To Recover for people with substance use disorder and bring it back to Low Oxygen. The goal is to provide free weekly classes to support people in recovery, starting in November. “I was blown away by that gym, those people, the energy, the support they have for each other,” Dennis says. “Talk about fate. How much more fate could it be that a guy from Utah with a recovery gym randomly comes in here and we strike up a conversation about how to bring this powerful recovery program to Summit County?
“The opportunity with the gym came and then we got this opportunity with Building Hope and Fit To Recover, and now we have the opportunity to really influence people, give them a safe place, a healthy outlet, a place where they can be accountable not only to themselves but to each other; a place that’s run by a cop who understands, who’s been there, walked in their shoes,” he says.
Taneil also is excited about the possibilities. “You have to replace addiction with something else or you’ll always going to feel like you want to go back to it,” she explains. “I know it from my family, and I’ve seen it. We want everyone who walks through the door to feel comfortable and like we are family. We want to know you and your kids and your dogs, and we want you to reach out when you’re having a dark day. We want this place to be your reprieve, your safety, your support. Jared sees it from the law enforcement side, I see it from the family side, so if we can help people feel comfortable inside these walls -- that could save lives, improve lives, redirect lives to healthy alternatives. That’s huge.”
“We’re all imperfect,” Dennis says, borrowing from a Building Hope stigma reduction campaign slogan. “We’re all going to make mistakes; we need to forgive ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with having certain weaknesses. Identifying them and working on them is what makes us stronger.”
He pulls out his phone and scrolls to a text his mother forwarded to him the day he and Taneil returned from Fit To Recover. “Some of the kindest souls I know have lived in a world that was not so kind to them,” it reads. “Some of the best human beings I know have been through so much at the hands of others, and still love deeply, they still care. Sometimes it’s the people who have been hurt the most who refuse to be hardened in this world, because they would never want to make another person feel the same way they have felt. If that isn’t something to be in awe of, I don’t know what is."
He pauses, looking through the glass doors to a full capacity class. “I’ve found that if you’re in a negative head space, you’ll search out more negativity,” he says. “But if you’re searching for positivity, you’ll find it everywhere. Hope is in all of us. We just need to look in that direction.”
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Story by Suzanne Acker, special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. If you have a story to share, reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Liam Doran / Liam Doran Photography
Video by @dragonfruitvideo
- Building Hope’s Peer Support Line: 970-485-6271 Option 2.
- Substance Use Recovery Meetings
- Low Oxygen Fit to Recover Classes 443-480-0218
- Building Hope Therapy Resources
- Free Online Support Group led by Michelle Marzo, licensed professional and addiction counselor. Contact email@example.com
- Mind Springs Health Outpatient Counseling
- FIRC Mental Health Navigation