Two dozen Lucas County jail inmates sat in a semicircle and considered a question regarding the rest of their lives: What do you want your “dash” to be?
Jacob Spellis drew a tombstone on the whiteboard and looked toward the crowd. He wrote in his year of birth, 1992, and a hyphen for the undetermined future.
“You want to be known as the biggest weed dealer in Toledo? The biggest heroin shooter?” he asked.
PHOTO GALLERY: Lucas County Jail program targets drug abuse
O'Neill speaks about the TRAC program at the Lucas County Corrections Center.
One inmate, Eric Furll, replied, “I want mine to be that after 20 years in prison, I made something of myself.”
Spellis, a group facilitator at New Concepts, led a substance abuse session as part of a new jail program. The Treatment Re-entry Awareness Community began last month in a reopened area of the building.
Inmates struggling with heroin and other opiate addictions live together and receive on-site services.
Officials know many addicts are arrested on drug charges or crimes to fund an addiction. Screening eligible inmates at booking allows staff to reach them early, said Marc O’Neill, a counselor at the Lucas County Sheriff’s office.
Mr. O’Neill said this dedicated area means those seeking recovery can learn sobriety lessons in preparation for leaving the jail. Keeping them together builds relationships, makes group meetings simpler, and allows for quicker medical services.
There are no additional salary costs for jail counselors in the program. The outside providers are not paid and instead volunteer their time, Mr. O’Neill said.
The program can serve 48 male inmates. Plans are in place to add a female dormitory. Mr. O’Neill praised Sheriff John Tharp and Dr. Marion Boss of the sheriff’s office for their work in creating it.
Spellis told the inmates he too was incarcerated there in 2010 on a drug trafficking charge. Now, he is nearing completion on his master’s degree in social work.
He was first arrested at age 11 and said repeated detainment can seem inevitable.
“From there, you just think this is the way you live,” Spellis said.
But ensuring that these inmates receive treatment will lead to better decisions.
“I don’t think addiction lasts forever. I don’t,” he said.
The Treatment Re-entry Awareness Community plays a role in reducing the number of people using heroin, said Matt Rizzo, president of A Renewed Mind, a local substance-abuse treatment facility.
He outlined three ways to reach others:
● Preventing people from trying the drug.
● Encouraging treatment with programs.
● Reversing fatal overdoses through naloxone.
“We’re trying to break the cycle of people leaving jail, and either going out, overdosing and dying, or going out and committing another crime related to use, and ending up right back in jail,” Mr. Rizzo said.
Furll, an inmate in the group, said the program will help him and others. He has been in and out of the jail for 30 years. Furll has struggled with mental health issues and crack cocaine abuse, including during a difficult period since the death of his wife.
“I can honestly say that I’m done. I don’t want that life anymore. I’ve ruined my life. I burned every bridge with my family,” he said.
He said he’s optimistic because this program addresses addiction and its causes. Any donation of treatment DVDs or books for the program would be appreciated, he said.
Furll, who has a pending misdemeanor menacing charge, said he traveled to Toledo with his mother for a medical appointment. Because the appointment was near the home of his drug dealer, he forced an argument to leave her to go for the drugs, he said.
That charge allowed him to enter jail and saved his life, he said. Furll said he previously served 20 years for assault with intent to commit murder in Monroe County and additional offenses in prison.
He credited Spellis for bringing his experiences to help people like himself become sober.
“He was out there in the same streets I was in. He was running with the same crowd I was running with. That tells me if he can make it out of there, I can make it out there. There’s no reason I can’t,” Furll said.