WCDC has programs, for inmates, but success, up to them
Becoming a certified correctional counselor gives Angie Stewart an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of inmates by teaching a Moral Recognition Therapy Relapse Prevention class at the Woodford County Detention Center (WCDC). Stewart, who has been in recovery for 14 years, said she started dabbling in pills and snorting cocaine around the time she dropped out of Woodford County High School during her senior year. She ended up in the hospital at age 34 – on her daughter’s fourth birthday – after almost dying of a drug overdose. Her personal experiences resonate with inmates. “Instead of saying: ‘Page 72 says this,’ I’m saying: ‘Let me tell you what happened to me,’” said Stewart. “ … And I think that I connect with them very well because of my past, because I understand” where they’ve found themselves. Her personal experiences ultimately compelled Stewart to become a voice to raise awareness about the substance abuse issues in her hometown, while helping others turn their lives around through her involvement in R.A.W. (now known as Recovery Advocates Woodford County). Stewart said she started teaching classes for inmates at the WCDC shortly after she finished her training in February. “Having somebody like Angie who’s been there, lived it – that’s been great because she can relate to the inmates,” said Woodford County Jailer Michele Rankin, who estimates 98 percent of WCDC inmates have drug and substance abuse problems that led to them committing crimes. “She lets them know in the beginning, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve done that and look at me now,’ ” said WCDC Lt. Charlina Foster. “It shows them there is life outside of drugs … You can be somebody – not a criminal.” The Kentucky Department of Corrections stopped funding Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT) at the WCDC so the cost for the classes taught by Stewart comes out of the inmate commissary fund because it benefits them, Rankin said. She said Stewart also teaches Portals classes so inmates learn how to look for a job, manage money and other life skills so they’re more successful when they’re released from jail. “When they are just laying there and watching TV all day that’s not doing anything to benefit them,” said Rankin. She described the goal of MRT and other programs offered at the jail as a way to get inmates “away from that criminal way of thinking.” Still, many inmates are unsuccessful when they return to life on the outside because temptations like drugs are still there, according to Rankin. She remembers an inmate who died a month after being released – and he’d finished substance abuse training, MRT and “really wanted to be successful.” “Ultimately, it is up to the individual,” said Rankin. “I can hold their hand all day long, but if they choose to get high that’s not about me. But we do try to provide them with the tools to be successful” when they’re released. Rankin said if the WCDC’s programs can help one inmate turn his or her life around “it’s one that we’re not going to their funeral.” She credits Foster for being the backbone of the programs offered by the detention center. The WCDC has a father-daughter dance every February and an annual toy drive for families who, according to Rankin, “suffer more than anybody.” While the inmates receive three meals a day with no family responsibilities in jail, their wives or the mothers of their children are trying to make financial ends meet, she said. “So we do try to make it about the families,” said Rankin. A cookout is being planned for graduates of the new MRT program so those inmates can interact with their kids, she said. Stewart teaches MRT and other classes in the evenings so inmates are still able to do community service work – saving the county thousands of dollars in labor cost, said Rankin. She said inmates earn time off their sentences for taking MRT classes because the program’s recognized by the Kentucky Department of Corrections.