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Promoting Towards a Sober Life

January 23, 2017

By Karen Takacs

DOC Communications


Personalized scarves designed by mentors to honor the graduates. (Karen Takacs, DOC Communications)

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BELFAIR – The room was decorated with Seahawks gear from top to bottom. It wasn’t until later that the connection between the 12th man and the 12 steps of recovery was made.

More than 50 inmates sat silently waiting for the therapeutic communities’ promotion ceremony to begin at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Nine women and their sponsors, known as their “Big Sisters,” walked into the room and sat up front. The Big Sisters presented scarves that they had decorated, paying close attention to their mentees’ struggles. These scarves were later given to their families.

The crowd was greeted by a guest speaker and most of the women were able to get through the philosophy and opening remarks before the tissue box began weaving through the audience.

Approximately 80 inmates currently participated in the “Infinity” therapeutic community group at Mission Creek. Therapeutic communities is housed in a separate housing unit outside of where the general population resides. The strategic placement is so the programming can be very focused and integrated in the women’s daily lives. The residential model helps to focus on changing behaviors, enhancing personal responsibility, and creating a community to concentrate on breaking the cycle of addiction.

There are five levels of promotions, each requiring greater efforts and commitment to a sober lifestyle. Big Sisters are there to give the mentees a sense of belonging, acceptance and skills to live without self-destructive behavior patterns. All of the women and staff address each other by “Ms.” and “Mr.” as a sign of respect.

Guest speaker Angela Heller was a previous member of the therapeutic communities at Mission Creek and released from supervision in 2014. She now works as a construction worker and spoke about how the therapeutic communities program has helped her stay sober.

“I have been through the prison system four times,” said Heller. “Today life isn’t always easy. Miracles do happen, but so do bad things and it’s up to you how you handle it.”

Many of the inmates being recognized for promoting through the therapeutic communities program shared their personal stories.

Therapeutic communities’ participant, Ms. Abuan stated, “Having been here for almost a year, living a life of structure and recovery, is not how I thought my stay would be like. I have a beautiful 6-year-old son and haven’t been there for him due to my drug use. Only good things can come from healing.”

Her words were echoed by another participant, Ms. Blake. “I will leave here and be a productive member of society.” Ms. Blake is the mother of three boys. She said she felt supported by her mentor and her mother being in the crowd.

Therapeutic communities’ participant, Ms. Moore, shared, “I sat alone on a 23-hour lockdown and decided to change everything about my life. I made a commitment to enroll in every class available to me. I believe in myself and I believe in this program.” Ms. Moore was also joined by her dad who was in the audience, showing his love and support.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that before entry into the therapeutic communities program, cocaine use was at 66 percent compared to post-programming at 22 percent. The use of heroin and heavy alcohol use was also cut by more than half. In addition, those who were unemployed by full time work went from 88 percent to 77 percent.

The Department of Corrections believes that incarcerated individuals have the ability to grow and change. The endless support and commitment the promotion ceremony participants have made to the program was visible. The women shared their stories, tears, and inspirational words to those early on their own journey.