The requests are peppered with prayers for recovery from addictions. Someone’s been on crack. Or they used to drink to the point of losing control.
The Rev. Neil Richardson, the new chaplain at the Muscogee County Jail, sees the addicts every day and he wants to help break the cycle.
He and Susan Abercrombie, a member of Calvary Baptist Church, lead Christian-based recovery groups in the jail; Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups are also available.
But too many released offenders relapse once they’re out, they said.
Area churches that use Christian-based recovery include: Rivertown Church; Christ Community; Wesley Heights United Methodist Church; Fourth Street Missionary Baptist; and Greater Mt. Zion Baptist in Phenix City. Richardson and Abercrombie have had one meeting with folks from these churches and will have another April 9.
“We would like to share resources and facilities and do three times as much,” said Richardson. One program is called Celebrate Recovery.
Another idea is to find property for a safe house — a place where the released prisoners can go for meals or recovery group meetings or coffee or conversation 24/7 — to escape the temptations of using again.
“The person might be up at 3 a.m. and say, ‘I’m fixing to use,’ and the coffee pot will be on,” said Richardson, a member of First Baptist.
“We want to create groups that treat and meet the needs of people with all kinds of issues, not just drugs or alcohol,” Abercrombie said.
Richardson and Abercrombie are careful not to knock the work of groups like AA or NA, which are more generic in their allusions to God. The words “Higher Power” are used in that material, and many local churches host groups.
Part of the aim of getting ex-offenders in recovery is tackling the recidivism rate. For newly released prisoners, successful substance abuse treatment on the outside may be the most important factor in keeping them from returning to jail — trumping issues such as transitional housing and finding a job, experts have found.
“Treatment for substance abuse is vital to reduce the recidivism rate,” Lindsay A. Phillips, instructor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa., has said.
For a recent study, Phillips interviewed 20 men incarcerated in a large urban eastern prison system. Each had been released and then jailed again after committing crimes. All 20 said they relapsed on substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, crack-cocaine or heroin, after their release. Fifteen of the 20 identified drugs as the reason they were back behind bars.
About two-thirds of prisoners released nationally return within three years, other studies have shown.
“One of our goals is treating them as the neighbors they are,” Richardson said of ex-inmates. “We can see them at Publix on their day off, or we can be nervous they’ll break in our homes at night.”
For more information about the local effort, call 706-575-1483 or 706-593-5511.
Allison Kennedy, 706-576-6237