For the past seven years, Christopher Haynes has led meetings in a special dorm at the Monroe County Jail. The dorm is set aside for inmates with addiction issues.
Haynes spends an hour a week talking with inmates on subjects including meditation and spirituality. Participants have described activities ranging from the dissection of Leonard Cohen lyrics, to discussions based on interviews with monks, to frank conversations about their spiritual views.
Haynes is a volunteer – as are the inmates. In a conversation this morning, he pointed out that inmates choose to participate in the addiction program, even though it means they live with less privacy in an area of the building without windows.
“In spite of the fact the dorm is less desirable…these men volunteer for that,” Haynes said. “It gives them a 24-hour communal environment with other people who are interested in bettering themselves, which they report is not at all the environment that is found in the other jail blocks.”
The program that takes place in that dorm is called Addicts in Recovery and it is facilitated by a number of volunteers like Haynes. The program is operated by New Leaf New Life, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote better conditions in the jail, reduce recidivism, and help inmates successfully re-enter society.
And although Haynes and others are still eager volunteers, the program appears to be ending, at least for now.
“As people have been leaving, no new inmates have been coming into that dorm for a few weeks,” he said.
The reason for the end of the Addicts in Recovery dorm is complicated and it goes back to 2014, when the state legislature passed laws attempting to reform the criminal justice system.
But basically, the volunteer-run program is being replaced.
There is currently only one area of the County Jail building where an outside agency is allowed to, sort of, run things. There are other areas where organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and New Leaf New Life can hold meetings and do programming – but there is just one housing area set aside for exactly that purpose.
And that’s the area that has been, until now, space for the Addicts in Recovery dorm.
But starting next month, the area will house a related, but very different program, facilitated by Centerstone, a larger organization that provides community-based mental health and addiction services.
The director of grants and specialized services at Centerstone, Jennifer Fillmore, says her organization’s work at the Jail is funded through a state initiative called Recovery Works, which began after the passage of criminal justice reforms.
“With Recovery Works…they have allowed providers to go in and provide services before the person is released back into the community,” Fillmore said. “We have been going into the jail and we’ve been completing assessments 30 days before someone is released back into the community.”
“30 days is a very limited time when you’re talking about folks that have serious and persistent substance use and mental health disorders, who are often homeless, and have a whole slew of problems that they’re trying to deal with, ” she continued. “The (state) recognized this wasn’t long enough and they put out a request for proposals that went to all the sheriff’s offices through the state. Because we were already working so closely with the Monroe County Jail, the sheriff approached us and we jointly wrote an application saying, ‘We would love to be able to start offering services to people 90 days before release.’”
That new state-funded program is taking the physical space currently used by New Leaf New Life to run the Addicts in Recovery dorm.
There are some important differences between the two programs. For one, Addicts in Recovery served exclusively inmates who volunteered to participate. There was no tangible incentive beyond the programming itself.
But, according to Fillmore, participants in the new program could be there because they’re court-ordered.
“Can they self-refer? Yes. But they could also be referred by the judge or probation…or the prosecutor or the public defender’s office,” she said.
For Haynes, that distinction is important. He notes the significance of having a group of inmates who have chosen to seek help. He also points out that the Addicts in Recovery dorm served many County Jail inmates who were preparing to be shipped off to state prisons — places where, by the way, drug use is often a major issue.
The new Centerstone program will serve a different population, inmates that are about to be released back to the community.
Fillmore, and the Jail administrator, Sam Crowe, both emphasized today that the new program will be “evidence-based” and that the participants will be licensed and accredited.
When asked whether the Addicts in Recovery dorm has been a success over the years, Crowe said he simply didn’t have enough numbers.
“That’s one of those things I can’t answer because they don’t provide me with statistics on it, and that’s one of the problems we’ve had with that program,” Crowe said.
But while Crowe says he doesn’t have numbers, letters of support from inmates would suggest that at least some do find value in the program. In one letter provided to WFHB, an inmate writes: “Though the faces and interests of the (Addictions in Recovery) dorm inmates change, the desire for the inmates to introspectively look at their lives and express themselves in a creative way has never changed.”
Haynes says he sees a need for the Centerstone program — but he also thinks there’s a reason to have a volunteer-run program like Addicts in Recovery.
“(Inmates) especially appreciate that programs are being led by volunteers, by people that are there out of a sense of service and love, and not professional obligation,” he said. “That means a great deal to them.”
To be clear, New Leaf New Life as an organization will continue to operate within the Monroe County Jail. They will continue to run transition programs, enrichment programs and others.