Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Success of drug program is celebrated

Inmates hear encouraging words about beating addiction

At 19, Jacoby Smith was sentenced to 55 years because of his cocaine addiction.

He robbed people making late-night bank deposits so he could feed his habit.

"I had a weapon sometimes," Smith, 41, said. "My intentions were never anything more than to [get] money to support my habit."

He finished his prison term in 2006 and now supports four generations of family, from grandmother to grandkids, by working at the Wilmington docks while on probation.

And he thanks the Key Program, a substance abuse program at Young Correctional Institution that celebrated its 20th anniversary Monday.

"I'm proud. I'm proud now of who I am," said Smith, who's been clean for seven years.

Without drug treatment, recidivism rates can top 70 percent, according to the Delaware Department of Correction. While state officials couldn't immediately provide numbers for the Key Program, a similar program in New Jersey boasts of cutting male recidivism by a third and female recidivism by half, said William Palatucci, senior vice president of Community Education Centers, which sponsors the Key Program.

Smith knew he would be at Monday's celebration. He needed to show the success that's possible for those in the program.

"It was heartfelt, just to be in the atmosphere [of Key] and rekindle a lot of experiences that happened here," he said.

The program relies on group and individual therapy to break self-destructive cycles. Participants gradually take on more responsibilities during the program's roughly 18-month regimen. Toward the end of his term, Smith counseled younger inmates.

The prisoners in Key are separated from the general population. They referred to each other as family during the celebration, and a group of them put on a play about life for family members on the outside.

For Smith, it was the one-on-one therapy with a counselor that changed him. He said the one-hour sessions were never enough time to talk. He wrote a lot of essays about self-destructive tendencies and would talk them over regularly.

One realization he had was that using his ability to rile people up and get their attention could be put to better use than getting friends together to cause trouble.

With his long purple T-shirt standing out in the ocean of white prison garb, Smith spoke to the crowd of about 200 inmates currently in the program. He told them of his life of crime and drugs. He gave them encouraging words and drew a standing ovation.

"I was overwhelmed," Smith said. "To receive that response when I'm not being an active participant, that was rewarding."

One of the program's strengths is that it teaches the inmates responsibility, said Smith and Dohn Price, an inmate currently in the program. Their problems are their own and they can't blame circumstances or other people for crimes they commit.

"It's good to come to prison and do more than just jail time and work on yourself," said Price, who is serving a 16-month term.

It's also a tough program, he said. Inmates work seven days a week on their problems, regardless of bad days. That system also keeps out the unmotivated, Price said.

"The process is made to weed out those that aren't ready," he said.
source: Delaware Online, http://www.delawareonline.com

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