It affects us all: Jails adapting to the epidemic
For some, the path to sobriety includes a stop in jail. Here in Michiana, those who work with addicted inmates are trying to make sure that jail sentence comes with a chance for rehabilitation.
“It’s one of those things where it’s pretty hard to see how far you’re going down until you’re pretty near the bottom,” said James Landrum, a recovering addict currently serving time in the Starke County Jail.
For many addicts though, rock bottom falls well below the holding room.
“From the time I was 19, I mean I think the longest I’ve gone was maybe a couple of years without being in some sort of institution,” said Landrum.
James Landrum just turned 30.
“I don’t think there’s anybody back here who wants to come back,” he said.
I asked him why he does keep ending up back in jail then.
“Well, uh, stupidity for the most part,” said James, laughing.
Jokes aside, the root cause extends far beyond a lapse in judgment.
“It’s obviously progressively gotten worse,” said Starke County Jail Warden Phill Cherry.
“You see a lot of people come in for heroin, controlled substance arrests, said Marshall County Chief Jail Officer, Andrew Holcomb.
“It’s kind of sad exactly the statistics,” said La Porte County Jail Deputy, Timothy Mace.
So far this year, La Porte County booked 315 inmates on drug dealing and possession charges.
Starke County is currently housing 99 inmates on drug charges.
In Marshall County, they processed 159 drug offenders in the past three months.
“It’s depressing. I’m fifty-six years old, and I see guys older than me coming in here, and they look 80 or 90, and then you see their sons who are probably in their 30s, and then you’re seeing the 18 or 19 year old grandson, and you know at some point, they were probably all together doing whatever they were doing,” said Warden Cherry.
“We’re seeing people 22 times that come in here, and I just think what?” said Regional Nurse Manager for Quality Correctional Care at the Marshall County Jail, Shelly Tennant.
“The financial burdens of this is horrendous,” said Marshall County Sheriff Matthew Hassel.
The La Porte County jail commander says they spend about $33 a day per inmate.
In Starke County, the sheriff says the spend $120 a day.
In Marshall County, the sheriff says housing their inmates costs $63 a person.
“Our medical is great, but I can tell you, I pay about $13,000 a month for the medical, and that’s just for the service. That’s not for if we have any bills come from the hospital,” said Sheriff Hassel.
As the influx of addicts drives up costs for jails, it also sucks up the time deputies can devote to inmates.
“If you have a number of people that come in that are withdrawing, you have to hold them in our intake area…which can put a strain on my staff for sure on where to put other people that are also being booked in for everything else,” said Officer Holcomb.
“It’s definitely brung our population up a little bit. It’s changed the way we have to react to different situations within the booking process…but eventually it humbles you, I think, brings you down to a level where you see exactly what’s going on in your community, and there’s a serious issue,” said Deputy Mace.
“You don’t want to admit that your life has become so screwed up that there’s nothing that you can do to make it any better,” said Landrum.
Phill Cherry, STARKE COUNTY JAIL WARDEN
“Back in the day, ten, twenty years ago, lock them up, throw away the key. Well, that’s not treating the problem,” said Warden Cherry.
“We have to have an avenue to help get them started on addiction, recovery. I don’t see any way around it. Otherwise, it’s a revolving door,” said Sheriff Hassel.
He says, for them, one of the keys to opening a new avenue for addiction has been adding onsite medical care when they moved facilities four years ago.
“Honestly I don’t know how they did it without us… It’s just not something that’s easy to deal with if you’re not right here and seeing what’s going on,” said Shelly Tennant.
Tennant says jail is a safe harbor for addicts to get clean and sober.
“Realize you know you’re getting three square meals a day, this is the healthiest you’re going to be,” she said.
“They put some weight on. That’s the big joke. I gained 50 pounds when I was in jail. Whoever says that, you know?” said Cherry.
Cherry says now, their primary goal is to rehabilitate people.
“People are going to tell you, you can’t rehabilitate people, and that’s a lie. I’ve seen it,” he said.
“Emotionally, that was probably one of the hardest things you had to do is look at yourself and look in the eyes of the people that have been there for you your whole life and tell them how dirty you’ve done them and tell them that you need help…It’s hard to come back from something like that, especially as a man,” said Landrum.
Cherry says their garden and Intensive Outpatient Program classes help the inmates to feel valued again.
“These guys are so proud of that garden and that greenhouse,” said Cherry.
“You can have fellowship with other people without putting stuff into your body that shouldn’t be in there,” said Landrum.
“We’re not here to try to save the world. We’re just here to try to give them a leg up,” said Cherry.
They’re hoping the leg up will help them step forward to the lives they’ve always wanted to lead.
“I got a six year old boy at home, just turned six, and that’s been a real motivating factor,” said Landrum.
He’s already teaching his son lessons he wishes he would have listened to years ago.
“Live your life, and do what you know is right in your heart, and have respect for yourself more than anything,” said James.
James says that will ensure his son’s life is filled with windows of opportunity instead of doors slamming behind him.
As jail officials work to protect their inmates from relapsing, they're cracking down on smugglers trying to tempt them away from sobriety.
To hear some of the Starke County Warden’s interesting stories of catching smugglers in the act, CLICK HERE.