Jail graduates 6 inmates from addiction treatment program's first class

Staff writer

“Today in the mirror the reflection I see, is not the person I used to be,” seven women recited in front of a crowd of about 40 people at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail on Tuesday afternoon.

The seven women are inmates at the jail recovering from their addictions.

Six are now graduates of the “We Are In This Together Program;” the seventh was an inmate visiting from Chesterfield County who helped get the program started, according to Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail Superintendent Tony Pham.

They each have recited the poem dozens of times. Committed to memory, the seven women stood up and recited it one last time together at the graduation ceremony for the jail’s addiction rehabilitation program.

“I see beauty, love, courage and grace, the reflection I see has a smiling face,” they said.

Each of the participants stood in front of friends, family, law enforcement and jail administrators to tell their stories of recovery.

“Recovery is something we fight for every day, and it’s something we’ll continue to fight for, for the rest of our lives,” Cara Heathe said. “We can only do this one day at a time.”

The program seeks to empower women inmates suffering from substance abuse disorders, as well as offer them information on healthy living, help when they re-enter society and counseling, according to Virginia Gazette archives.

The WAITT program partnered with a group called “Real Life” to help the inmates modify drug or alcohol-seeking behavior and coping skills to change their lives.

The Real Life program has been shown to reduce the risk of recidivism, the release said. A Virginia jail saw a 21% decrease in the number of inmates who reoffended one year after an initial stay of 90 days or fewer.

“I am a mother of four, and for years I’ve been struggling with my addiction,” Allison Bellamy said. She said the program helped her get back on her feet after she gave birth to her son while incarcerated.

Before graduation, each of the women created a poster with a poem on it as a reminder that they had to approach every day with serenity, courage and wisdom.

“My name is Melissa and I’m a recovering addict,” Melissa Lowery said, before sharing that the loss of her mother left her with an intense sadness. She filled her depression with anything that dulled her suffering, she said between muffled sobs and tears.

On Tuesday, Lowery said she looked forward to the rest of her life.

“My participation in this program has taught me to trust myself and put myself first,” Lowery said. “This program has helped me realize my life is important. I’m deserving of a good relationship. Today, I move forward.”

Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran called the program an example that should be shared among other jails across the state.

Moran pointed at programs similar to the WAITT program, as well as initiatives put in place by the administrations of former-Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Gov. Ralph Northam as a reason for a three-year low in the state’s recidivism rate.

Volunteers stepped in to counsel the inmates on healthy coping skills, how to create positive support structures and parenting skills.

Pham lauded the work of the inmates and the dedication of the volunteers. In March, he said the program could expand to include other groups of inmates.

“The services which will be provided in this program will enable these ladies to examine their pasts carefully so that they can create a better future for themselves once they leave VPRJ,” Pham said in April.

“Reducing recidivism is a benefit for all stakeholders; for the inmates, for our public safety personnel, and for our localities. It is always a good thing when an inmate returns to the community and their loved ones as a productive citizen.”

Inmates in the program included Heathe, Bellamy, Lowery, Angela Lynch, Jodi McGinnis and Kayla McManus.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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