A corrections officer employed at Federal Correctional Institution Fort Dix went in front of a judge this month to answer to charges of smuggling drugs into the prison for inmates and accepting bribes. Prosecutors claim that the CO spent years smuggling synthetic marijuana and Suboxone into the prison and took bribes from family members of inmates during that time a well, using the proceeds to gamble in Atlantic City. If convicted of these charges, he could spend up to 15 years in prison.
For families with loved ones in prison, finding out that a correctional officer was smuggling drugs into the facility – the place where they hope that their loved ones are protected from the risks of drug abuse and addiction – can feel like a betrayal. The fact is, however, that there are likely more COs who are on the take and bringing contraband into the prison, feeding the addictions, vices, and power struggles among inmates and contributing to the normalization of a criminal and/or unhealthy mindset. It is one of the many issues that cause prison to be a deforming experience rather than a reformative experience and one of the reasons why, when the charge is nonviolent and related to drug use and abuse, drug addiction treatment should be the response rather than incarceration.
Too often, people living with active addiction find themselves behind bars. Without regular access to substances, they may be sober during their time inside, or they may get high every chance they get with homemade alcohol or substances that have been smuggled into the facility. Only in very rare cases will people who are incarcerated be able to connect with recovery in a meaningful way, but families can still help their loved ones to make positive strides forward in their healing while they are inside by:
- Encouraging them to attend 12-Step meetings. In most jails and prisons, inmates have access to 12-Step meetings run by a staff member, but if they don’t, they can always organize their own on a more informal basis or otherwise reach out to other inmates who are trying to stay sober.
- Sending them sober information. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous make a range of resources available online about how to run meetings and take part in the 12-Step program. Family members can print these out and mail them to their loved ones who are incarcerated.
- Sending them addiction self-help books. Most prisons have guidelines helping family members to send their loved ones books during their incarceration, and organizations dedicated to getting positive reading materials into prisons report that one of the most commonly requested types of books from inmates are books related to addiction treatment and recovery. Family members can help their loved ones to take advantage of the downtime and lack of distraction to read up on how to change their behavior patterns and take the first steps toward reframing their lives in recovery.
- Helping them to connect with treatment. No matter how long your loved one is sober inside, long-term recovery can only come through treatment when addiction is an underlying problem. A medical problem with psychological ramifications, it is essential that treatment addresses the behaviors and perspectives that drive cravings even if physical dependence is not currently an issue.
Whether or not there is some level of addiction treatment available to inmates while in lock-up, it is essential that those who were living in active addiction prior to incarceration walk out of prison and immediately enter a treatment program. Family members can aid in this process by finding the right treatment program for their loved one’s needs, doing the work to secure their enrollment prior to release, and even packing a bag that includes all the clothing and items they will need in treatment.
For families with a loved one who is struggling with the idea of entering treatment, it can take some time and persistence to help them recognize the need for drug rehab. Though you cannot necessarily stage a formal intervention while they are incarcerated, you can have worried friends and family members write letters expressing their concern and urging your incarcerated loved one to agree to enter treatment. Every bit of encouragement can help them to understand that treatment is the best path to long-term recovery.
How are you helping your loved one connect with the treatment services they need to build a new life in recovery?