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Inmate substance abuse program makes strides


Program focuses on communication to get inmates to make proper choices


March 12, 2008
The five Indiana Department of Correction prisoners came into the activity room at the Crawford County Jail carrying their journals and worksheets. They turned in their homework and took a seat, just as if they were in high school. Then, one of them became the teacher. On this day, it was "Gary's" turn to lead the group.

The program, called Substance Abuse Curriculum is run by Hoosier Hills PACT. Steve Massengale, Community Corrections coordinator for PACT, oversees the program, which is held four days a week at the jail. On Wednesdays, Massengale is assisted by Nelson Grube, a group and class facilitator who works in both Crawford and Harrison counties.

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Nelson Grube, left, and Steve Massengale oversee a group of IDOC inmates at the Crawford County Jail in a substance abuse program designed by Hoosier Hills PACT that encourages a 12-step system of dealing with addictions. (Photo by Lee Cable)
Crawford County now houses up to 50 prisoners at a time for the Indiana Department of Correction, and the PACT program reaches out to those prisoners to help with substance abuse issues. Those held in the Crawford County Jail are non-violent, level one and two inmates and many of them are incarcerated on charges related to drug and/or alcohol abuse.

"There's three phases of the program," Grube said. "In the first phase, we talk to them. In the second phase, we get them to begin talking. And in the third phase, they talk to us. It's a behavior approach. We try to get them to look at what they value and to make them realize that they're impacting more lives than their own."

"We empower them to realize their options," Massengale added. "And we help them develop the skills to do that."

Gary's group is in phase three. They have already completed the other two phases and have advanced to a level that allows them to communicate ideas about addiction to each other while Massengale and Grube are mainly observers. The program reinforces the idea of a 12-step procedure that encourages those involved to stay drug and alcohol-free through a support group and individual sponsors.

"Freedom from addictions gets you other kinds of freedoms," Gary began. "We have to define addiction in order to be free from it. We have to learn how to live free from drugs and alcohol. And we have to understand the benefits of a support group and what we will get from it."

The inmates then began to identify strategies for support group involvement. One inmate preferred "people who I know and who understand what I'm going through." Gary mentioned that in his Alcoholics Anonymous book, it states that "only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic."

"Look for those who are willing to help," another inmate added. "Make sure that someone who has been sober for years does not look down on someone who's only been sober a short time. And if you feel like you need a drink, you should be able to call your sponsor any time day or night."

The group's attention then turned to "triggers," which can be anything that influences a person's decision to fall off the program. One person indicated that something like a vacation can trigger a desire to drink or party.

"Or driving past a bar can make you think about drinking," he said. "A lot of things can bring back memories that can make you want to drink."

When asked, the whole group responded that drugs and alcohol were instrumental in their problems with the law.

"My dad was a drunk," one inmate said. "I've got a family history of problems with alcohol. If you're around it all your life, it seems normal."

Gary then gave a short history lesson about Alcoholics Anonymous.

"The 12-step program was started in Akron, Ohio, in 1935," he said. "It's now in over 50 countries."

Gary went on to describe the program as one that offers support and hope to anyone who is struggling to overcome an addiction. The support is provided through meeting fellowships and open discussions. The hope comes through the personal understanding one gains from exploring the ideas or themes of each of the 12 steps. All people attending AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings are free to accept the ideas that they find useful and reject the ideas with which they don't agree. The only requirement is a sincere desire to end one's personal addiction.

"Addiction varies from person to person," Gary said. "If you have parents that use alcohol or drugs, there's a good chance that you will be an addict, also. When you try to break that addiction, it's hard. Of course, for most people, the first 30 days is the hardest."

Another inmate disagreed with Gary, saying that for some people, the first week could be the hardest, and for others, the first year may be the hardest. But setting a timetable in days or months can be misleading.

"Yes," Gary agreed. "Any small trigger can spark desire for a drink in some people. And for others, it takes more. But no matter how long it takes, you have to accept sobriety as a norm.

"For many people, it may take even more than a year to move beyond the triggers. And there's always a chance for a relapse. Something like losing your home or a death in the family can lead to a relapse. Even one beer can cause a relapse. For me, one beer would be a risk. And for me, alcohol is a stronger addiction than drugs. If I had a joint and a beer setting in front of me and I could have either one, I'd chose the beer every time.

"There's some of us who, when we were babies, our parents would fill our baby bottles with Budweiser when we were crying and stick it in our mouths. It's easy to want a beer."

"You have to look for things that give you the same kind of high," Grube interrupted. "And what is that? How about exercise? You have to have an option. If you want a drink, just run five miles and you'll have the same kind of high. Always have an option — or call your sponsor."

Gary then went on to tell a story about a man who was standing on a bridge with his pants on fire.

"It doesn't do any good to stand there and wonder why your pants are on fire," Gary said. "It doesn't matter. Just jump in the water. It's the same with AA. You don't have to keep dwelling on why you're addicted. Just jump in and do something about it."

Massengale and Grube started the PACT program at the jail in September and have already watched several inmates make it through the first two phases.

"We have a pretty good idea who will make it through the program after just a few meetings," Massengale said. "Those are the ones we really concentrate on. If they leave here due to a transfer to another facility, they take the credits they earned here with them. There are now several counties that house DOC inmates, and most of them are bringing these kinds of programs into the jails."

Hoosier Hills PACT Director Jon Kuss agreed with Massengale.

"The county makes money from housing these inmates," Kuss said. "This is our way of helping the county do that. The state offers a similar program at their facilities, so those held in county jails should have the same opportunity.

"We are also looking at starting a GED program in the jail. These kinds of programs help inmates when they are released back into the general population. We want them to succeed."

And the inmates have to believe in the program to advance to the third level.

"We have to make a decision to turn things over to a higher power," Gary said. "We have to admit the nature of our problems and be ready to change. We have to make a list of the people we have harmed — and apologize. We have admit we were wrong and carry the message to fellow sufferers.

"Now, when I talk to my family on the phone, they can tell I'm different — that I've changed," he said. "I could never have pictured myself leading a group like this when we first started back in September."

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