- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade met resistance from his own staff when he proposed a substance-abuse rehabilitation program based on Alcoholics Anonymous at the county jail.
The idea of designating a cell block, or pod, for criminals to talk about their addictions struck some as a waste of time and money.
"It got called 'TFP' the 'touchy, feely pod,'" Sheriff Wade said of Pod 4-A, where the program began.
Two years later, 70 to 100 men in three pods now participate in the 12-step, peer-support program that Sheriff Wade named Back to Basics. A similar program is planned for women.
"I had character defects that I couldn't identify by myself," an inmate who introduced himself as Clarence said at a recent session. "In my addiction, I isolated myself. I didn't speak to people; I didn't speak to my family. For 20 years, I've been in and out of jails.
"I knew I had a problem, but I didn't know the problem I had."
That problem, Clarence said, is clearer to him now. And he hopes his new knowledge will make him a new person. He said he has begun to open up to friends and family.
"I have a support group that I've been building. I plan to use that support group to the best of my ability. It's truly a blessing to be in here," Clarence said.
Few prisoners consider their incarceration a stroke of good fortune, but since Back to Basics was introduced, "grateful" has become a legitimate description for many in the three pods.
An inmate named L.C. said he has seen jail programs for substance abuse before, but none so inclusive. And none ever had any effect on him, other than being a chance to break the monotony of jail.
"What's unique about this is, we're all convicts. You're talking about 36 grown men able to sit down and cry sometimes, and talk about how they feel," L.C. said.
"I can [fool] a psychologist, a counselor; I know I can, I've done it," said a young man who goes by the nickname Nuke. "But here, I'm with 35 other guys with degrees in [fool]-ing people, so you just can't do that. Here it comes together, and that's when the healing takes place."
A lower recidivism rate is characteristic of inmates enrolled in the program, Sheriff Wade said. And the program's audience is tailor-made. "When you look at it, 75 to 80 percent of them are in there for drugs."
Addiction and its associated behaviors are problems that Capt. Tom Lobrano, security division commander at the jail, has seen daily for years.
And they are something he expects to continue to see. That is why he railed against Sheriff Wade's proposal when he first heard about it.
"I thought it was a waste of time, money and effort," he said.
Now he's a believer. "I've seen it work," he said.
Sheriff Wade said the program has cost about $15,000. Books, videos and other reusable resources relating to substance abuse and anger management account for nearly all of that expense.
"And everything we spent came from canteen funds," he said.
The canteen fund is money collected through the sale of food, clothing and other incidentals to inmates. Sheriff Wade also puts money made from the jail's phones into the fund, which is earmarked by state law for uses that directly benefit prisoners.
Benefits here are easy to see, said Morgan Moss, clinical supervisor for mental health and substance abuse at the jail.
"Jail provides an ideal environment for them to do what they're doing here," Mr. Moss said. "They have very structured rules that they have to abide by."
Surprisingly, he said, many of those rules are set by the inmates rules banning cursing and racial slurs and mandating room and common-area cleanup. The rules the inmates institute are often tougher than those set for the population at large.
Infractions in 4-A are punished by essay assignments, and the length of each essay is determined by the other inmates.
"We have had no major incidents or anything you'd really call an incident since the thing started two years ago," Mr. Moss said.


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