Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Lancaster County Jail’s addiction, mental health treatment programs changing lives behind bars

Must read

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – Like the bright pops of red and orange lilies blooming outside the Lancaster County Jail, inside the barbed wire and brick walls is hope for a new beginning.

That hope grows inside a meeting room in the jail. It’s crowded, but not just with inmates – also their friends, family and staff. They’re there for a graduation.

“You’re here today to celebrate all of the hours, all of the time you have spent,” Jennifer Somers, a therapist at the jail said to start the ceremony.

For about an hour, the people in the room go around in a circle, sharing words of encouragement and reflection on the nine-week drug treatment program inmates just finished.

Family, friends and others clap as Cymon Kingery graduates from an addiction treatment program at the Lancaster County Jail.(KOLN)

“When I came into jail, I didn’t have a lot of hope for the future,” graduate Cymon Kingery said. “I’m leaving with a lot of hope for the future.”

The two programs, Women’s Inception to Substance Recovery and Men’s Inception to Substance Treatment Recovery, have each been operating for a few years.

Since the women’s program began in 2021, 230 women have participated and 77 graduated. Women who are pre-trial and sentenced are eligible, which is why the graduation rate is lower, as some get released before they can finish.

Inmates at the Lancaster County Jail attend a class about finding a job for the Women's...
Inmates at the Lancaster County Jail attend a class about finding a job for the Women’s Inception to Substance Recovery program.(KOLN)

The men’s program followed in 2022. Since the inception, 176 men have participated and 106 have graduated. Only men sentenced to the jail can enroll.

Men participate in a class about healing past traumas during the Men's Inception to Substance...
Men participate in a class about healing past traumas during the Men’s Inception to Substance Treatment Recovery program.(KOLN)

10/11 News interviewed seven graduates about their experiences going through the W.I.S.R. and M.I.S.T.R. courses. All said the same thing – that this program, is different.

Kingery, who was booked into jail in January, said he’d been struggling with substance abuse and addiction since he was only 11 years old, and didn’t think the M.I.S.T.R. program would make a difference.

“I thought I’d be able to skate through it and it wouldn’t be a problem and I wouldn’t have to engage,” Kingery said. “And surprisingly, you know to my benefit, the program actually is challenging.”

Paul Pond, who has been in jail since March, echoed this. He said he joined the M.I.S.T.R. program for the perks that came with it.

“Treatment didn’t work for me,” Pond said. “I’ve been an addict pretty much most of my life in and out of incarceration most of my life…an eight week program to me just was a joke, I thought there’s not gonna be anything you learn in eight weeks, but the teachers here are different.”

Somers, who started the programs said that’s by design.

“Substance use is what we’re honing in on,” Somers said. “But we also are looking at severe persistent mental illness, we’re also looking at just the criminal, you know, behavioral issues that come along with substance use and trauma.”

The program was made necessary by the sheer number of inmates coming into the jail facing charges related to drugs. As of July 8, there were 741 inmates booked into the Lancaster County Jail, with 55% of them there on drug-related charges.

The goal of programs like this one is to take a more proactive approach to responding to drug related crimes in the county.

“We need more to help people even before they interact with law enforcement or in the early stages so that we can keep them from even coming here. But once they’re in the system, we want to give them every opportunity to do the kind of self-evaluation and corrections that these folks these graduates today went through,” Lancaster County Commissioner Rick Vest said.

Lancaster County is currently assessing data from the program to see what kind of an impact it’s had on recidivism rates in the last few years. That data isn’t yet available.

A graduate and her family celebrate her graduation from an addiction treatment program inside...
A graduate and her family celebrate her graduation from an addiction treatment program inside the Lancaster County Jail.(KOLN)

But Somers said she believes the program makes a difference.

“They’re better behaved when they’re here at the jail,” Somers said. ”So they’re not getting infractions with officers. They also, you know, have a better relapse prevention plan before they get out of here. We’re connecting them with community supports.”

Throughout two months of classes, inmates work on coping with anger, moral reconation therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and more. They work with the Mental Health Association on Wellness Recovery Action Plans. They take classes on emotional health and holistic practices like yoga and exercise.

The inmates said, it works.

Leanne Strong said she’s been to treatment for addiction before but never for mental health.

“I didn’t know how to cope because I didn’t know what I was feeling. I just knew I was hurt,” Strong said. “So now that I’ve had a chance to label things and ground myself, I think that really I’m gonna have a good chance of longer sobriety. And you know, I won’t have to rely on addiction to get self, you know self soothe.”

Leticia Knutson’s story is similar. She said she never thought she’d be sober; never thought she’d work through her traumas.

“It helps you have a toolbox, helps you be mindful,” Knutson said. “It teaches you how to deal with your emotions and how to accept your past traumas instead of running to addiction and helps you have a safe place to heal.”

Knutson said getting arrested was a blessing.

“You’re not going to hear a lot of inmates say that, but it really was,” she said.

That blessing came to the forefront during the graduation ceremony when families, like Dylan Brooks’ reunited. Brooks has been in jail since March.

“I’m a full-time dad and my daughter was taken away from me in November of last year and I take so much pride in being a dad,” Brooks said. “That was a point for me where I’m like I got to do some self-reflecting and I got to do something different if I want to make a positive impact on her life.”

Dylan Brooks' family watches as he graduates from an addiction treatment program at the...
Dylan Brooks’ family watches as he graduates from an addiction treatment program at the Lancaster County Jail.(KOLN)

Brooks said the program helped him reflect, take responsibility for his actions and make fewer impulsive decisions. It was a full circle moment when his daughter was sitting in the audience at his graduation.

“I feel like this is my turning point in life,” Brooks said. “I’m closing the last chapter and I’m starting a new one in the right direction.”

It’s a new chapter with new hope for Kingery, too, who is putting old fears aside.

“I don’t have to worry about my kids having to bury me early,” Kingery said. “I don’t have to worry about you know, ending up in a place like this for the rest of my life. I actually get to be somebody and make something of myself.”

Click here to subscribe to our 10/11 NOW daily digest and breaking news alerts delivered straight to your email inbox.

Latest article