PART TWO: From behind bars to recovery

By Sara Belsole

COLUMBUS, GA – After serving seven months in the Muscogee County Jail, 28-year-old Whitney Jones is on the right track.

She has graduated from Damascus Way and is heading back to school, all results from the support she says she gained while in jail.

“How are people supposed to change if they don't have support systems? That's one of the most important things about recovery,” Jones says.

Whitney's recovery began when she volunteered to serve her time in the jail's faith-based dorm.

“We were allowed to be apart of every recovery program in the jail, not to mention we would have teachers come into the dorm and we would have classes,” she says.

The faith-based dorm is one of four dorm programs established by Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr.  The jail also has a GED, veterans and fatherhood dorm.

“You have to have the philosophy sometimes or the mindset, are we going to do anything to change the people inside the county jail,” Darr says.

Not only do the inmates in the programs take classes, but they also live together. “It creates almost a self-help group, a support system within that,” Darr says.

The corner stone of these programs? More than 100 volunteers.

“We go deeper into the cause root of the problems and we are able to establish a relationship with the heart and start to learn ways to manage those emotions,” Jon Embola, Manager of Onesimus Programme, says.

Embola says since Darr recently opened the jail to volunteers five days a week, volunteers can touch even more lives.

The number show these programs are working. Of the 154 inmates who have been released after completing one of the four programs, only 24 have returned to jail.

The veterans dorm has seen the most success. 27 of those inmates have been released and only two have returned, a number far lower than Georgia's recidivism rate of about 33%.

“We wanted to crate some programs that would hopefully benefit the inmates, that would put some tools in their tool box so they wouldn't come back to the county jail,” Darr says.

“We have seen great success and our hope is that other communities can actually learn from what we're doing,” Embola says.


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