San Quentin prisoners trained as drug counselors
By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News Service
December 7, 2006
SAN QUENTIN (BCN) - In a series of firsts, 14 inmates
of San Quentin State Prison graduated today from a training course
that prepared them to staff the prison's first addiction recovery
counseling program, the first such program to be run entirely
by inmate counselors, a prison official said.
The 18-month-long addiction recovery counseling course is a prelude
to preparing the prisoners, all of whom are serving life terms,
for counseling certification tests offered by the California Association
of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, according to Lt. Eric
Today's graduates range in age from around 35 to 55 and are all
serving life terms, he said. They are taught by professionals
from around the Bay Area.
"Even if they never themselves get to go home ... they'll
still be giving back" by providing their services to other
inmates, he said. "This (is a) goldmine of professional services
being offered here by volunteers," he said.
Messick estimated that 90 percent of inmates are in prison across
the state because of behavior that resulted from drug or alcohol
According to CAADAC spokeswoman Rebekah Gray, the 4,000 hours
of internship training required before certification typically
amounts to two years of work.
To date, all drug and alcohol counseling at the prison has been
run by volunteers, including a group called the Insight Prison
Project, which offers 18 self-development classes daily to inmates,
While those classes are invaluable -- and will continue to be
offered to both the general population -- some inmates, frustrated
by the lack of a solid counseling program at San Quentin, approached
volunteers about starting a training program for themselves, which
culminated in today's graduation.
"They're doing this outside their requirement of having
to work their regular prison jobs," he said, adding that
counseling may ultimately become one of the many regular work
assignments available to prisoners.
Today's graduates will work with the entire prison population
as they move toward certification, but they are also likely to
be heavily involved in a new program slated to start in February
called "Stand Up," or "Successful Transitions and
New Directions," he said.
Inmates will be housed in a 1,000-bed re-entry unit, he said.
Stand Up participants have to be from the Bay Area and at least
six months and no more than five years from parole.
Unlike earlier programming designed to prepare prisoners for
release, Stand Up is endorsed by the state Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation, which effectively guarantees all 800 beds
allocated will be used solely for that program.
Participation will be mandatory for everyone who is assigned
to Stand Up. Courses will include training on anger management,
alternatives to violence and restorative justice, which involves
inmates coming face-to-face with their victims, Messick said.
The goal of the Stand Up program is "to release these guys
back into society less likely to revictimize," he said.
"These guys get out of prison and they get home and they
start making demands and no one told them what kind of stress
they put their family through," he said. The first time many
parolees have to consider the ramifications of what led them to
prison is when they're back in the outside world, putting them
at further risk of engaging in the same behaviors that got them
into prison in the first place, he explained.
Messick said the city of Oakland and Alameda County, such as
Project Reach, are among those working to offer self-development
programs after release that coordinate with the prison's programs.
He was enthusiastic about CAADAC's involvement in the program,
citing the organization's decision to donate expensive application
materials, waive fees and arrange for testing in the prison.
The state of California does not license drug and alcohol counselors
and CAADAC is one of 10 organizations in California that provide
certification, CAADAC spokeswoman Rebekah Gray said.
CAADAC has the strictest requirements of all 10 organizations
for its candidates, including 4,000 hours of internship training,
Receiving CAADAC certification is a significant achievement,
she said, as "We are very particular about who we certify."
Messick said he's excited about the new program and hopes inmate-run
counseling services can expand to serve even the shortest-term
prisoners, those in the so-called Reception Center, who may be
at San Quentin for less than six months.
With the history of volunteer support at San Quentin, he's also
not concerned about the program running dry. The Bay Area is a
rich resource for the prison because there are many residents
here who "just believe in people," he said.
Besides, if "we show results, we'll get funding," he
"San Quentin's trying to be the flagship here," he
said. "We've led the way."
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