Jail's 12-Step Meetings Offer Hope For Recovery

August 14, 2009

By Ron Cassie

Recently, a woman working at the drive-through window of a local fast-food restaurant recognized "Laurie O.," an accountant who had ordered lunch.

"She asked, 'Do you remember me?'" Laurie O. recounted. "She said, 'I've been out for 18 months and I have 18 months of sobriety. I'm doing great.'"

Laurie O. recently celebrated seven years of sobriety, and for five years, she's been volunteering at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings inside the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. In keeping with AA tradition, she did not wish to use her real name to protect her anonymity.

"The idea I want to stress to the women is the reason they're sitting on that side and I'm on this side -- is that still they're drinking and using (drugs)," said Linda O., adding she'd once served a long weekend in jail after a DUI arrest. "And that it doesn't have to be that way."

Kelli Maze, an inmate services administrative specialist, said volunteers bring AA meetings to male and female inmates three evenings a week at the detention center. Al-Anon meetings are held for women at the jail once a week. Narcotics Anonymous meetings are held every other week.

"I've been here since 1994, and volunteers have been bringing meetings ever since I've been here," said Lori Frazee, director of inmate services.

According to the detention center's 2008 report, 933 male inmates and 29 female inmates participated in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings inside the jail, with 67 additional female inmates participating in Al-Anon meetings.

The detention center's 2008 annual report directly lists five of the top 10 criminal charges against the inmate population as drug and alcohol crimes. They include possession of a controlled dangerous substance other than marijuana, possession of marijuana, driving while intoxicated, driving while impaired by alcohol and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Other leading crimes, violation of probation, second-degree assault, driving without a license, for example, may be linked directly or indirectly to alcohol or drug problems.

Bob B., a nurse at a state prison institution in Hagerstown, is an AA member and volunteer who has led AA meetings at other institutions. He estimated that between two-thirds and three-quarters of inmates have alcohol or drug addiction issues.

His estimate may be on the low side.

Seventy-percent of arrestees nationally self-report a history of substance abuse. Greg Warren, director of substance abuse treatment services for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has estimated the number of offenders with serious substance abuse problems at "probably 80 percent." Few are in long-term treatment, making the volunteer-led 12-step meetings inside even more critical.

"They are important on so many levels," said Bob B., also wishing to protect his anonymity. "No. 1 being that the recidivism rate is outrageous. Without a complete change in somebody, they are going to end back doing the same things and end up back in prison.

"And without the support of AA, it's hard," he said. "So many who get released don't have a support system. From my own experience, I can tell you, the first year (of sobriety) I wasn't employable. I was that badly broken. I literally needed people to feed me three meals a day."

Susan A., a Frederick -area stay-at-home mom, had four DWI arrests before getting sober 612 years ago. She has also bumped into women she met at AA meetings at the detention center around the city who said they are clean and sober today.

"I knew about AA from having to get court slips signed after my first DWI, but I couldn't hear what those people were saying then," Susan A. said. "My husband helped me get to AA later."

She said volunteers in recovery take 12-step meetings to prison to plant a seed.

"The women see me and hear what I've been through, and hopefully, they'll realize, 'If she can do it, maybe I can, too.'" Susan A. said. "Some people take to the message, some don't. Sometimes it takes time. But we try to give back what was freely given to us."

"Jack A." said 20 to 25 men typically attend each AA meeting at the detention center. Some, he acknowledged, are simply looking for a reason to leave their cell. Nonetheless, AA literature, including the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous and "The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions" are free to all who attend.

"I saw one of the guys I met at the detention center at the noon AA meeting on Second Street yesterday," said Jack A., a retired carpenter who has been sober for 18 years.

"And I've seen him several times before at meetings since he's been released. It's great to see a guy come out keep going to meetings and staying clean and sober.

"It's a blessing."

Frederick News Post


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