A life consumed with drugs and alcohol is very hard to change. Yet, hundreds of men serving time at Orleans Parish Prison are taking steps to turn their lives around through the voluntary Southeast Regional Re-Entry Center. The 60-day course is a certified curriculum that involves anger and behavioral management, decision making, money management, computer technology (resume creating, job application skills, establishing an email address, etc.), life coaching and job skills. Up to 180 participants are accepted at a time.
“We teach men how to think differently, how to act differently and have different expectations of their potential,” said program director Leo Hayden. “It’s done in a process I call debriefing, redirecting.”
Hayden, a 30-plus-year recovering heroin addict who was an Ohio State football star and a No. 1 Minnesota Vikings draft pick in 1971, was hired to start Re-Entry at OPP in January 2010 after years of similar work in other states. He had spent 30 months in jail.
“I got involved with drugs, and it cut my career short, my life short, but, through the grace of God, I find myself here doing God’s work,” Hayden, 65, a Catholic, said.
Since he’s been to the depths familiar to those to whom he ministers, Hayden is a role model for Re-Entry participants. On a recent visit, he asked them the goal of the program. All yelled in response, “Get out and stay out.”
“If you come back here, you lose,” Hayden said to Re-Entry participants. “You lose the brass ring. This whole drug thing is a sleeping tiger. If you don’t deal with this clinically before you get out of here, it’s gonna wake up. We’ve got to be able to deal with that sleeping tiger.”
Tries to motivate
Hayden said 90 percent of what he does is motivational counseling. He told them that his journey years ago to remain drug-free began with a first step like they were taking. He realized he didn’t want a small bag of white powder to have control over him.
“In order for things to change in my life, I had to change the things in my life,” Hayden said.
“Most have to be dragged kicking and screaming into treatment,” the former addict said. “I tried everything to get clean and be clean. You steal to get high; you got to detox to get your burn down; you substitute. We’ve all tried it. That’s the goal – to get high; the fill drives you.
“But the horror stories don’t go anywhere. Whatever corner you were at (to get your drugs before incarceration), it’s still there. They need you back. If you beat that tiger (as I did), others might beat it, too.”
Hayden said the drug trade, like any other business, is about supply and demand. He said most addicts spend $10,000-$15,000 annually on drugs.
“If you stop using, they stop selling, so they welcome you back (to addiction out of jail),” he said. “Wouldn’t you like to have that money you spent on drugs?”
Hayden told the prisoners he knows what it’s like to be sick and suffering, to be afraid drugs will tempt you once outside of the prison walls and ending up right back inside. That’s why he partnered recently with Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (CADA) to provide case management and counseling pre- and post-incarceration to keep men from reverting to their former habit. Approximately 70 percent of people who get arrested test positive for drugs.
That percentage was proven when he called for a show of hands from Re-Entry participants of who were arrested for drugs and alcohol; three-quarters of the men raised their hands. The same individuals expressed desire to stay drug-free.
“If we don’t recognize that there is a major need for drug and mental health services, we are sending people out there not ready,” Hayden said.
Amanda Walker, CADA director of public services, says CADA helps men get into substance abuse programs, earn their GED and receive the ancillary services they need once released. Follow-up is done with each client for six months after release.
“That’s why having these (CADA) people here is a godsend,” Hayden said. “I pray that they will be able to work with those who want more than what you are here. I pray and hope that for you.”
Follow up after jail
Graduates of Re-Entry are tracked after release and have been doing well, Hayden said. In fact, some of the 1,300 graduates return to speak to inmates about life after prison. Hayden said his target goal was 20 percent recidivism. While it’s still above that, the rate has gone down the last three years.
“Mr. Hayden does a good job of getting guys to come back and give testimony, good and bad,” Tyrone Casby, senior program specialist, said. “Recidivism is dropping, and we’re working on that.”
“Who’s got a chance?” Hayden asked the inmates.
“We got a chance!” they chanted back.
Dynell Crump, 35, was sentenced to five years in prison for possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia. He joined Re-Entry and was chosen by his peers as a mentor in the program. He wants to work on getting his GED.
“I want to better myself and change my life,” Crump said. “I won’t make the same mistakes again. I’m tired of living the life I was living. I want to be a better father to my children (daughters ages 2, 11 and 17) when I get out. I learned a lot about money management and to work on anger management and to help others with the same drug problems.”
Edgar Williams, 44, gained self-respect and motivation through Re-Entry and is scheduled for release in two months. He’s been incarcerated for six years and 10 months and is recovering from his cocaine addiction. He said Hayden kicking his addition was an inspiration to him.
“The program set my mind frame differently,” he said. “I learned how to talk to others. It makes you realize you can’t be the same man (that came into jail). You have to be willing to accept what (the program directors) tell you. I thank God for the program. I’m not coming back.”
Hayden said the Archdiocese of New Orleans became a partner in the ministry after he met Ronnie Moore, director of Catholic Charities’ Cornerstone Builders program that helps employ men recently released from prison. He had similar relationships in other states, as well, since he considers part of what he does as spiritual.
He also works with the archdiocesan Office of Prison Ministry that has a presence at about 10 prisons throughout the state. In the OPP Re-Entry program, the ministry provides a priest for graduations and family open houses and regular visits. Recently, the Prison Ministry office has been providing hygiene supplies (soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes) when someone enters Re-Entry.
“The physical presence of the priest is a reminder of the peace and justice that the church brings,” John Messenheimer, Prison Ministry coordinator, said.
In fact, Archbishop Gregory Aymond gave the opening prayer at a recent graduation, which impressed a sister of a Re-Entry graduate.
“It’s an eye-opening experience,” she said about the graduation program where family is invited. “It was such a beautiful thing with family members and children there. The program gives them a chance to get back into society and teaches them how to rely more on God and have a better life through learning more skills. I think part of the violence is not being educated in God’s word. I pray for my brother.”
“Families become an integral part of what we do, even though the men are locked up,” Hayden said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.