For graduates of Turning Point, the stakes are high. For them, success will mean avoiding the place where they found the support they needed in recovery from addiction: the Columbia River Correctional Institution in Northeast Portland.
“A lot of people come in here, they’re hard,” said Richard G., one of the graduates of the Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare program, which serves inmates in their final six months of incarceration. “For me to let go of that convict mentality is something I hadn’t done before. I wasn’t looking for that. “
But Turning Point, which Cascadia has operated at two area prisons for years, brought him to what he calls a “cognitive awakening,” He has taken responsibility for decades of addiction, violence and off-and-on incarceration.
“The first word I said down here was ‘surrender,’” he says. “I was as sick as my secrets. I’ve learned so much down here. I wish I had this 30 years ago.”
‘Each one, teach one’
Turning Point runs a 61-bed wing at Columbia River and has 54 beds at Coffee Creek, the Wilsonville facility that houses Oregon’s female offenders. The program follows what its program manager, Jeanine Bassett, calls the “therapeutic community model,” group-based counseling, mentorship, and rigorous dedication from participants – to themselves and to their “brothers in blue, “other denim-clad inmates.
“All the people we get are considered high-risk, high needs,” Bassett says. “The group is the agent of change. Each one, teach one.”
At a recent graduation ceremony, Bassett leads off with a short dedication to the three men who are about to be discharged from the program and the larger facility, which houses 575 inmates.
“What I’ve seen in all three of you guys is that the motivation has been there,” she says. “You all have shown the willingness to do the work.”
“Treat your addiction with respect. Remember your daily effort. Remember what you learned here.”
Bassett says the roughly six-month program consists of three phases: a 30-day orientation, three to four months of primary coaching, and a two-month transitional period.
The challenge is to make returning to the real world safer for Turning Point clients in recovery. Inmates participate in “skills rehearsals” in which they practice making the right decisions when faced with temptation.
Eric Boon, a primary counselor with Turning Point, explains. A person who once enjoyed live music, for example, might attend a concert in the company of others in recovery, providing support for healthy choices and interrupting the association between drug and alcohol use and having a good time. The next time, one supporter might be enough. Eventually, friends as resources may be unnecessary altogether
“We work with them to define ‘What are the risk factors in your life?’” Boon says. “How do you make that safe for yourself again? You have to put safety plans in place.”
“My whole life depends on not taking that first drink,” says Richard G.
‘Education without graduation’
The first graduate to speak at the recent ceremony, Richard G. does so with confidence, his voice filling the room without the benefit of a microphone. He talks about a life sent sideways early by a violent father and sexual abuse. He expresses regret over the people he injured with violence of his own, much of it intensified by alcohol and drug abuse.
He said Turning Point guided him to the revelation that let him finally see himself as the actor, rather than the victim in his life story.
“Life is about curve balls,” he says. “You have to go through a lot of pain and heartache to make a decision, to make a conscious decision. I realize now recovery is education without graduation. It’s gonna be a challenge.”