Second Chances: A Look at the Obstacles Inmates Face Getting Help for Chemical Dependency

February 14, 2019 01:20 PM

(ABC 6 News) - Every Friday for at least six hours, Gerald O’Brien volunteers for the Community Food Response Program packing meals for those in need.

“It’s giving back to communities that we’ve robbed and stolen from,” he said. Because O’Brien has stolen a lot."I have 18 felony convictions so I have a long criminal history,” he said.

His recent crimes have included identity theft and credit card theft. “I was stealing stuff to support my drug habit solely,” he said.

A habit that was entrenched in his St. Paul community.

On November 27th, 2017, he and his wife were arrested in Anoka County on financial and fraud charges.

"I was glad that we were arrested and taken off the streets. We were both ready to figure out something else other than what we were doing," he said.

In his mind, what he needed was treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a Christian based rehab and recovery center.

According to Adult and Teen Challenge’s Community Outreach Manager Jenna McMillan, most of their clients have been incarcerated.

“I think a big number of addicts have been incarcerated. I would say the majority of people that suffer with addiction end up in the legal system,” she said.

63% of sentenced jail inmates met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse according to data collected from 2007-2009 in a National Inmate Survey.

Only 5% of the general population over 18 met criteria for drug dependence or abuse according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health.

While finding help for anyone can prove challenging, seeking treatment as an inmate presents additional obstacles.

"Envelopes cost money, stamps cost money, and phone calls cost money. I spent so much time on the phone calling from one county to another saying listen this is what I have going on here. I don't want to have to spend another month here,” said O’Brien.

After four months, he was able to get into Adult and Teen Challenge in Rochester.

"From 30 plus years of crime and addiction, this is probably the biggest life-changing event that's in my life, more than getting married, more than having kids, more than deaths in my family," he said.

Teri Dose a Senior Social Worker at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center explains some of the obstacles facing inmates trying to get treatment. "I think that we constantly have waiting lists. Folks are sometimes lucky enough to get in a week or two after getting an assessment but for the most part it's a waiting game,” she said.

4,000 detainees are booked into the detention center every year. Dose says about 50-60% are dealing with substance abuse. The only in-house treatment plan is called Crossroads.

"That is a somewhat intensive in-house program. It's about 3 weeks, several hours per week that they attend a group to learn more about their chemical use issues that they face," she said.

There are 12 sessions for men each year and 12 sessions for women each year. Each session has 8 spots, meaning 192 people can participate in Crossroads annually.

Which means many people have to wait or seek treatment elsewhere.

Dose helps coordinate that, but she’s the only one.

"There’s only one of me here in the jail to help people navigate the chemical dependency system. I only work 40 hours a week. Technically I'm supposed to spend half my time doing chemical dependency services and half my time doing mental health services. So that takes me down to 20 hours a week that I can help people get out of here."

She says that getting people treatment directly from jail is one of the best ways to keep them from coming back. Sometimes, however, because of long wait times and other legal factors, inmates that need help are released before getting into treatment.

"There are so many people that need help and they want help. I can get to the hot burning ones right away and there are other ones I can help but I just can't get there fast enough," she said.

O’Brien hopes that things can change because, for him, treatment has been the only solution.

"I think that it takes more than prison, I've been to prison, I've done prison treatment, I've done boot camp and I've done all of the stuff in prison that they try to get you to do to not do it again. The things that I learn here about my chemical dependency and about myself are the things that are going to keep me from doing this again. I believe that with all my heart," he said. 


Talia Milavetz

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