SANDERSVILLE, Ga. — It's the start of graduation season, but 15 men from Washington County aren't having your typical celebration. The Washington County jail has a program called “The Residential Substance Abuse Treatment.”
It teaches inmates struggling with substance abuse to try to stay clean and stay connected to loved ones while they serve their sentences. We went to meet the second graduating class.
"I am loved, I am healed, and free from all addiction,” could be heard in the New Birth Christian Ministries Church in Tennille.
This graduation signifies that these incarcerated men completed a six-month program centered on recovery, rehabilitation, and reeducation for people addicted to drugs or alcohol. It included classes and counseling. Pastor Patrick Wilson is the program's coordinator.
"Rather than arresting these men who have this illness and not providing rehabilitation, recovery, or reeducation-- they're just going to serve their time in jail and they're going to commit another crime,” Wilson says.
The program works in three phases. So far, these inmates have completed two. One, a 12-step program to address addiction and self-reflecting. Two, doing community service and learning skills, like welding, first aid, and Microsoft Word. The final step continues after this graduation and it’s called “after-care”. Inmates will report once a week and attend a three-hour class to check in on their progress.
"If they can come through this program in six months, I believe that they have the tools to reenter into the community and society to be successful,” Wilson says.
Kyle Henry is one of Friday's graduates. He was prescribed opiates after having surgery on his shoulder in college playing basketball. He says he's been battling drug addiction for the past 10 years.
"At the time, I thought I was numbing the pain, but all I was doing was harming my body, harming my family, harming myself,” he says.
Kyle violated probation six months ago and was immediately offered a spot in this program.
"I've been to one or two rehabilitation programs before, and I can honestly say that none of them were even close to the treatment that I've done this time,” he says.
Kyle says he's made lifelong friends through this program, and has big plans when he's released in a year.
"I look forward to just being active in the community, and always giving back. I also want to help others with their addiction. I want to change lives myself,” Henry says.
The next Residential Substance Abuse Treatment class starts in June. Several other sheriffs and judges visited the first graduation with an interest in trying to create a version of the program for other counties.