- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) - Leo Mediavilla was in the middle of a backswing on the eighth hole of the Grey Oaks Country Club when he got the call that sent him to jail.

The year was 2008. Like many people in Naples, Mediavilla had been dreaming of retirement, but it had been two years since he left his job as the director of adult and community education at the Collier County school district, and he’d become restless.

“It was pretty exciting, except it was just golf, day after day,” he said.

When Mediavilla picked up the phone that day, the person on the other line was a former colleague who had worked for him at the school district. He wanted to know if Mediavilla would be interested in coming out of retirement for one day to teach the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to a group of local inmates. Was he available?

Mediavilla - a tall, lanky guy whose demeanor always seemed to suggest he was having a good day - agreed, and a few days later, he arrived at the jail to give his talk. When he was finished, the inmates gave him a standing ovation.

“I just thought, ‘What if this is the niche? Maybe this is where I really belong,’ ” said Mediavilla, 70. “It’s a place where we can really see and make some positive change in the way people view their world. And if we can change their worldview, we can change their world.”

In six years, more than 1,000 inmates have gone through Mediavilla’s class. Outside of jail, he runs into his graduates all the time, spotting them at church, the gym or the mall. He calls the inmates his students. They call him Dr. M.

Around the same time Mediavilla came on, jail administrators in Collier County were starting to become proactive about rehabilitation, the idea that they could provide training to help keep inmates out of trouble once they were released. One sergeant pitched the idea of having female inmates care for dogs from the animal shelter. The program launched in October 2011, and more than 80 women have since participated.

In the years that followed, jail officials unveiled a GED program, continued enrolling inmates in the 7 Habits class, and started a culinary arts course where inmates can earn food manager certifications.

The inmates essentially cover the costs of the programs themselves. Last year, the Sheriff’s Office spent $10,700 on the programs from its inmate welfare fund, a pool of money from inmates’ purchases of phone calls and snacks at the commissary. Mediavilla’s part-time job is paid for by a state grant for adult education.

While $10,000 might seem like a lot of money, it costs an average of $107 per day to house a single inmate. Put another way, if the programs are able to keep just one person out of jail for 100 days, the Sheriff’s Office essentially breaks even for the year.

“Sometimes we don’t think about how much money it costs to house inmates,” Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said. “To not do anything with them while they’re here is just inefficient.”

Back in August 2012, Leo Mediavilla reserved a conference room at the Lorenzo Walker adult education center and assembled what he had dubbed “an alumni association of felons.” The meeting was called Inside Out, meant for former 7 Habits inmates who had since been released. Mediavilla brought pizza in hopes of increasing attendance, a strategy that attracted three such men.

David McCoy, a 32-year-old whom most people called Shaggy, had been staying at the St. Matthew’s House homeless shelter, where he now volunteered daily in the kitchen. Like his mother, McCoy struggled with drug addiction, but on the day of the meeting, he was pumped up about recovery. He pushed his skateboard underneath his seat and began to share how he’d given up drinking and drugs and started going to Narcotics Anonymous. He credited Mediavilla and the 7 Habits for encouraging him to change.

“This guy saved my life, bro,” McCoy said. “The book changes the way I look at the world and the way I look at things. What you see is what you do, and what you do is what you get.”

“Sheesh!” Mediavilla said.

“I mean, honest to God, I thank you for it, bro,” McCoy said. “Like, I was a broken man before I walked into those rooms, you know? And now I’m surrounded by good influences.”

Before he left, McCoy told Mediavilla that he finally felt like he didn’t have to “be a dirtbag the rest of my life.”

“You go in there and you feel like, this is my life. Like I’m trapped. I got this felony, I can’t get a job. My license has been suspended in three states, I can’t do this. But what it comes down to is you never got it because you never tried, bro. You have to want it.”

- -

McCoy first came to Naples in February 2012, three months after his mother died of pancreatic cancer. One of his childhood friends was living in the area, and he thought a change of scenery would do him good. He left Connecticut on a bus and made it to Florida with $3 in his pockets. He lived on the beach and called Naples heaven on earth.

“From a dumpster to paradise,” he wrote on Facebook.

About four weeks later, someone saw McCoy walk away from a Mustang with a beach chair and silver box in hand. The car’s owner - who McCoy says was his estranged drug dealer - told deputies the silver box contained $1,000 in cash.

In interviews with detectives, McCoy admitted to taking the chair and the box but denied taking any money. He was booked into jail on charges of burglary and grand theft.

His chances for rehabilitation, he thought, were slim. He had started drinking cough syrup was he was just 13 years old and spent many of his teenage years in a residential treatment center, where he said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the 10th grade, he dropped out of school.

He was familiar with the criminal justice system. In 2006, McCoy was picked up for marijuana possession in New Orleans. In the state of Connecticut, he had been found guilty of assault, failure to appear, driving with a suspended license, possession of marijuana, use of a motor vehicle without permission and making threats - At the jail in Collier County, McCoy was approved for education block, where low-level offenders take classes and work on career skills. At first, the idea of the 7 Habits didn’t appeal to him. He’d done the treatment programs, read the self-help books and been to drug counselor after drug counselor.

“To be honest with you, when he handed me the book, I handed it back to him and told him, ‘I’m not going to get anything out of this,’ ” McCoy said of Mediavilla. “But when I started listening to him talking . I said maybe this is, you know, something I need to hear. People pay $2,000 to hear this class.”

McCoy sat through the course twice during his 14 weeks behind bars.

“I started seeing some little things firing off in him,” Mediavilla said. “The second time, he let some of the barriers down.”

On July 3, 2012, McCoy pleaded no contest, was convicted of the charges and released on three years of probation. He decided it was time to get sober.

A former tattoo artist, McCoy’s goal was to open his own tattoo studio, but one that would be safe for people like him who were in recovery. He had a name picked out - Clean Ink - and joked about touching up an old tattoo for Mediavilla.

McCoy moved out of St. Matthew’s House and into a duplex with his new girlfriend. In June 2013, nearly a year after his release, he received a certificate for a course on blood-borne pathogens, the first step toward opening his own shop. A month later, he earned a keytag from Narcotics Anonymous declaring him “clean and serene for one year.” And after one year, two months and 18 days of sobriety, McCoy finally opened Clean Ink.

The lease for his shop began in July 2013. With the help of his business partner, a 24-year-old tattoo artist he’d met at NA, McCoy became the owner-operator of a Davis Boulevard tattoo parlor.

It lasted a short while. That fall, deputies arrested McCoy’s business partner for a failed drug test, a probation violation. McCoy didn’t have a plan B.

“I basically just got handed the other 50 percent of this company,” he said at the tattoo shop later.

That fall, McCoy’s girlfriend called 911, saying he was “acting crazy.”

Since they couldn’t identify the primary aggressor in their dispute, deputies arrested both McCoy and his girlfriend for domestic violence. The State Attorney’s Office dropped the case in less than two weeks, but McCoy remained in jail for a month while the state tried to determine if the arrest alone should be considered a violation of his probation.

“I fought like hell to do the right things and rebuild my life. I am not saying I did this perfectly but I took every tool Dr. M and NA handed me and tried to use it to the best of my ability,” McCoy said in an email from jail in December 2013.

In the weeks that would follow, McCoy was released on house arrest, which he then violated by testing positive for cocaine. He fled the state and headed up north for four months before taking a bus back to Florida to surrender. Last summer in court, he admitted to violating probation and started a one-year jail sentence.

In emails from jail, McCoy explained how he’d relapsed.

“I went home on house arrest to my girl strung out and a crackhead living in the spare bedroom and I can’t leave the house, facing my biggest trigger: boredom,” he wrote. “I was strung out myself a week later and had lost all my belongings while I was in jail … so I ran.”

No longer in the education block and with nothing to do but sketch, read and do pushups, he thought a lot about his situation, sometimes blaming the system and other times finding it pointless to do so.

“The sick part about all of this is my only real crime is being a drug addict that just never got it right, and they bury you in so much bulls - t, it’s impossible to get out of it,” he wrote in one email.

In another exchange, he apologized for complaining.

“I have come to realize that I’m always crying about some unfair bogus bulls - t that the jail is putting me through when in the big scheme of things, there is truly nothing you or I can do about it.”

McCoy was released from the Naples Jail Center just before sunrise on March 23. Before saying much, he began hunting for a cigarette, eventually fishing one out of the top of a trash can and pressing it to his lips.

“It’s been 10 months,” he said, grinning.

A friend who was supposed to pick him up didn’t show, so he called his former NA sponsor for a ride. As McCoy carried his trash bag of belongings to the parking lot, he ran into Mediavilla, who was on his way into work that morning. The two said a quick hello, and McCoy introduced Mediavilla to his sponsor before they parted ways.

Mediavilla admits feeling defeated when he sees one of his students return to jail.

“I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t,” Mediavilla said.

“I’m a realist enough to know that I’m not going to change the masses,” he continued, “but if I can get to one or two, and they can change their family and they can be a part of the community, well then, it was better than hitting that seven-iron shot that I didn’t hit very well anyway.”

___

Information from: Naples (Fla.) Daily News, https://www.naplesnews.com


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