Sheriff thanks faith community, 150 jail rehabilitation volunteers

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 26, 2013 

For years, Linda Phillips was a "frequent flyer" at the Muscogee County Jail.

Now eight years sober, Phillips said she was once well known by jail guards. She was arrested multiple times during her 20 year addiction to crack cocaine, 15 of which Phillips spent trying to survive on Columbus' streets.

"When I was coming in, the guards would tell me 'Please tell me you're not here again," Phillips said. "But that's how I got introduced to the Muscogee County Jail and to Ms. Wanda Grimes."

Grimes, who helped Phillips overcome her addiction through Christianity, is one of the Muscogee County Jail's "church ladies" —women who minister and counsel inmates in the jail's female dorms.

She, along with about 150 volunteers and faith community members, were recognized by the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office Thursday during the Second Annual Faith Community and Volunteer Luncheon. Started in 2012, the event not only thanks volunteers in the jail's various programs, but also showcases the fruits borne from area volunteers' hard work.

In addition to providing faith services, volunteers provide classes aimed at raising literacy, help inmates obtain GEDs, work with veterans suffering from PTSD and provide addiction recovery counseling. A large percentage of those who are arrested do not have a high school education, and some cannot read or write, officials said.

According to Chaplain Neil Richardson, more than half of inmates who are booked into the jail will be arrested again. An inmate who participates in one of the jail's programs cuts that recidivism rate by more than half. The bulk of progress is seen in the dorms the jail has dedicated to recovery programs, where inmates are immersed with others looking to change.

"Fifty-four percent of inmates who come in are back within six months," Richardson said. "The ones in our dorms, the recidivism rate is 21 percent. That's powerful."

That's a change which Richardson says can be felt not only in the inmate's own lives, but throughout Columbus.

"There's scripture that says the angels celebrate when just one is saved. So should the community," he said. "I saw a Department of Justice statistic that shows the average addict will commit 140 felonies in six months. When one gets saved, that's 140 felonies the community doesn't have to face."

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