Hiring power

Charles Agar
Aspen Times Weekly
Paul Conrad Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN ” Without help, Paul Britvar just couldn’t stop drinking and driving.

Time and again, the 49-year-old Britvar, a second-generation Aspen stonemason, wound up before county court Judge Fernandez Ely with new charges ” six drunken driving allegations over the past 10 years.

Once Britvar got two DUIs in one day, an episode that ended with him nearly drowned in a drainage ditch, he said.

But help for Britvar came in the form of a 6-foot-6, 225-pound former Marine.

Earlier in the year, Britvar violated a bond by driving under the influence while out on work release from the Pitkin County Jail, and the judge decided to lock him up for six months. But after Britvar served five of those months, his attorney, Ted Hess, got together with court officials and jail staff to come up with a unique solution: Britvar was assigned a bodyguard, one who would match him nearly pound for pound (Britvar is 6 feet, 4 inches and 310 pounds). It’s a solution being applied more and more as judges and substance abusers look for alternatives to incarceration.

Britvar’s personal assistant is Britvar was assigned a bodyguard, one who would match him nearly pound for pound (Britvar is 6 feet, 4 inches and 310 pounds).

Robert Jamison, of Marble, is a former military man and security specialist who once guarded the ex-governor of Texas. He’s been following Britvar for a month, driving him to jobs and keeping him accountable. And, so far, it’s working.

Don Bird, the Pitkin County Jail administrator, has seen a lot of Britvar over the years.

“Lots of guys say they’re cured,” Bird said. “I’m not naive enough to believe that every guy who says he’s healed is healed.” But, he added, coming up with creative solutions, such as a hired bodyguard, is part of the upper valley’s “enlightened system of justice.”

In other areas, alleged offenders are simply “warehoused,” Bird said, but because of light crime in the upper valley and a lot of local resources, law enforcement officials and the courts are able to help people.

“In Paul’s case, he had obviously lost our trust,” Bird said.

Because Britvar could afford it, officials allowed him to hire a bodyguard, which not only gave jailers some comfort as another “layer of protection” during Britvar’s work release but gave Britvar a chance to re-enter society, Bird said.

The jail administrator credits Britvar’s will to take charge of his life, but he’s skeptical.

“Everybody’s rooting for him, but we’ve got an obligation to protect the public,” Bird said.

One slip-up means Britvar is back in custody, said Bird, and Britvar also has a GPS monitor on his ankle so jailers can monitor him at all times.

On a recent morning, Britvar and Jamison were busy setting up for a brick restoration project at the city of Aspen parking department, and Britvar, clad in his uniform coveralls and wearing his ready smile, took a moment to reflect on 10 years in the court system.

“There was a point where it was the only way I could get through the day,” Britvar said of his drinking and drug use. “My next step is prison.”

Despite his efforts, he returned to old habits. “I drank alone, and I drank in the vehicle. And when I drank, I drove,” Britvar said.

He’s been to multiple 30-day inpatient programs, undergone drug therapy for alcoholism, been to counseling and worked in recovery programs, Britvar said.

Nothing worked.

“I was such a wreck,” Britvar said. “They really saved me by locking me up; Judge Ely saved my life.”

But with Britvar behind bars, that meant his business, Rudi Britvar Stone, which is named for his father, was suffering. And some 35 employees rely on Britvar for their livelihood.

Britvar’s eldest son, Paul Jr., 20, took over the day-to-day operations of the business while his father was incarcerated, but to Britvar, it was important that he get out of jail and back to work not just because of finances, but also to get him back into the swing of life.

Under his new work release, and now full release from jail, Britvar is required to have a driver and follow a laundry list of conditions, including submitting to random drug and alcohol testing, if he wants to remain free.

With Jamison at his side, Britvar said, he just can’t “run amok anymore” or slip into older patterns.

From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., when Britvar goes from job to job, Jamison is his shadow. Britvar pays Jamison by the hour (Britvar estimated it costs as much as $6,000 per month for the service), but the bodyguard works for the county, filing a detailed report of Paul’s activities each day.

“I’ve been highly trained in personal protection and corporate security,” Jamison said.

The Fort Collins native left home in his teens and was schooled on the streets, he said, where he gained experience working with substance abusers. Jamison is licensed to carry a weapon, if needed, and said it’s only recently he’s fallen into helping people with addiction issues.

“I try to give him a lot of support,” Jamison said of his days with Britvar. “I can tell if he starts backsliding. If he’s talking the talk and not walking the walk, I’ll call him on it.”

Jamison recently worked with a woman in Grand Junction who had a drug problem, but when he was put off the case, the woman used sleeping pills, conked out while cooking and burned her house down. She is in prison on an arson conviction, he said.

“I log everything that he does all day, and I do a daily evaluation,” Jamison said.

It’s something that jail officials check against a computer log generated by Britvar’s GPS-enhanced ankle bracelet.

“I would know right away if he snuck off,” Jamison said. “At first he asked me if I had to go in the bathroom with him, and I said I will if I have to, but I’ll charge extra.”

Jamison said he sees “leaps and bounds” of improvements in Britvar since the pair met, and whether or not he continues with Britvar, Jamison hopes to go into full-time business helping people with addiction problems.

Jamison’s business model isn’t unique.

As popular TV shows like “Intervention” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” spotlight drug and alcohol recovery, the recovery business is also growing.

And since 2002 Nanette Zumwalt, CEO and president of California-based Hired Power, has been providing “personal recovery assistants” to the well-heeled in need of help. She charges upward of $850 for round-the-clock monitoring of clients, often people who are transitioning from their homes to a treatment center or from a treatment center (or jail) back to their homes.

A licensed interventionist, Zumwalt said her staff often transports people from interventions to the first step in treatment. “A lot of people on the way to treatment just don’t get there,” Zumwalt said.

The business started with the help of an L.A. businesswoman who continued to relapse when she returned to her everyday life and received assistance from Zumwalt.

“They need to learn to live in the daily environment,” Zumwalt said. “We stay with them 24/7 and help them build a recovery lifestyle.”

Personal recovery assistants are subjected to an extensive background check. If they are in recovery themselves, assistants must have been clean and sober for at least five years; if not in recovery, they must have five years’ experience in the treatment field (and Zumwalt is also creating a certification program to “professionalize” the field).

The assistants are matched with clients of the same sex and work with a treatment coordinator to help clients stick to goals and a plan. “They’re not operating as therapists,” said Zumwalt, but “guide, support and mentor.”

The “hired power” name is a play on words from the spiritual aspect of 12-Step Recovery, Zumwalt said, stressing that in no way does her service replace personal recovery but helps people get there. “We’re really that insurance plan at the end,” she said, adding that she has sent assistants home with mothers who’ve never been sober with their children as well as high-profile celebrities.

Sometimes family members contact her for services, but, Zumwalt said, recovery assistants leave if asked or if the person does not want to comply with treatment.

“Our goal is transition,” Zumwalt said. “We’re not the recovery police; we cannot stay with someone against their will.”

Hired Power has offices in Los Angeles and New York and assistants travel all across the U.S.

For Britvar, who has been wrestling with his addictions for years, the hired bodyguard is just an intermediate step into a life of recovery, he said.

This week he’ll leave the jail and move to a sober house near Glenwood Springs, where he’ll live with other people in recovery, follow strict rules and be administered regular breathalyzer tests.

“I’m looking to change,” Britvar said, something only he can do himself through work with counselors, psychiatrists and 12-Step programs. “It’s a lot of effort. I’ll do whatever I need to do.”

Britvar has lost a lot to drinking and drugs, including chances at being on the U.S. Ski Team in his teens, as well as work and school opportunities; his troubles nearly cost him his marriage, too, and his two sons, now ages 16 and 20.

“Why I still have a business, I don’t know; why I still have a family, I don’t know,” Britvar said. “This is my last chance, and that’s part of hitting bottom.”

But there is hope, Britvar said.

And that starts with him walking the talk each day and learning new ways to live life, he said, adding that it’s a spiritual approach. “I don’t hate myself anymore,” said Britvar.

On a recent Tuesday Britvar had a chance to put his new approach to the test. Neighbors of one of Britvar’s bigger jobs, along the Roaring Fork River in Aspen, complained about an 18-wheeled delivery truck parked next to the job site that blocked access to their homes.

Britvar talked with each of the neighbors courteously, asked another one if he could temporarily move the truck into her driveway so folks could get through and then helped conduct traffic.

“See, I didn’t overreact,” Britvar said with a smile. “I wouldn’t have done it that way before. … When the haze is gone, you can deal with everything.”