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Recovery Coaching Texas Prison Style

Kyle Gage PhotoKyle Gage lives in Longview, Texas, and he is a recovery coach. Longview is a little oil and manufacturing town a couple of hours east of Dallas-Ft Worth and about an hour west of Shreveport, Louisiana. The small town has had some illustrious citizens: Forest Whitaker was born in Longview, and Matthew McConaughey went to Longview High School in the ‘80s. Kyle had less of an illustrious impact on Longview.

A Hard-Earned Recovery 

Kyle entered his first rehab at 17. He enrolled in a boarding school for troubled teens. He continued in and out of rehab many times, trying to do it his way. At twenty, he knew he had to change, so he attended some NA meetings, through which he stayed clean for about 6 months. Then he used. He tried to keep things under control, and managed to avoid any serious consequences for about a year, but then one day he was pulled over by the police, who found methamphetamine.

In lieu of jail time, he agreed to treatment. After his treatment episode he remained clean on probation, in part because he was receiving regular tox screens. Staying clean was motivated by his desire to stay out of jail. For 7 months he was sober, but then he started to drink. Eventually, drinking turned to using drugs. Because of his fear of failing a tox screen, he stopped reporting to probation and went on the run. Kyle was picked up a few months later for the probation violation and was sent to the James Bradshaw State Prison in Henderson, Texas.

He got no help for his recovery in the state prison, drugs being as easily available there as they were on the streets. Upon his release he began using again and was eventually arrested for burglary. He went to treatment but left against medical advice. He went to live at an Oxford House, and remained clean for 2-3 months. The stinking thinking eventually returned, so he drank and drinking led to using. In a very short time, he was arrested. At 26-years-old, he was facing two consecutive ten-year convictions for burglary and grand theft auto. Kyle knew this was serious.

He asked the judge for help, and the judge gave Kyle ten years of deferred adjudication. Deferred adjudication is a form of a plea deal, where a defendant pleads “guilty” or “no contest” to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements laid out by the court. In Kyle’s case, these terms were that he go into an inmate drug-treatment program, attend Drug Court upon his release, make a commitment to outpatient treatment, perform community service and complete probation within the allotted period of time ordered by the court.

Kyle was sentenced to six months at the Clyde M. Johnston Unit, the Texas correctional institution’s Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility in Winnsboro, Texas. This facility is Texas’s drug treatment program for offenders. He received a lot of treatment and therapy at the Johnston Unit, where Kyle realized that he needed to embrace recovery.

Embracing Recovery

For Kyle, embracing recovery in prison began by helping others: helping others gave him hope. He was the person that led the NA meetings in his dorm. The counselors at Johnston announced that a recovery coaching certification course for the inmates would start at Johnston. They said they only had room for ten men. Kyle applied. He was hoping they would pick him, but he was nervous because he knew that it was very competitive and they were only picking one person per dorm.

Kyle’s mother found the book Recovery Coaching—A Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Addictions on Amazon.com and sent it to Kyle. Kyle read it before he even got accepted into the class, which he eventually was. He excelled in helping others in the Unit embrace recovery. He graduated the recovery coaching class and was even invited to talk to the Unit’s next class of recovery coaches.

Coaching Other Offenders

The primary counselor notified Kyle that he wanted him to talk to an offender that was a disciplinary problem. Jason was 19-years-old, (his named has been changed for this post) and faced 10-15 years for aggravated assault. Jason was a first-phase client, which meant he had only been at the Johnston Unit for 30 days. He was a meth addict, and he was having trouble adjusting to the Unit: He had issues with people in his dorm. He didn’t attend AA or NA meetings. He didn’t want to be in recovery. He wanted to give up, and fantasized about “rendering his sentence.” The inmates call it “getting sent back to county.” Rendering a sentence means to go back to the original courthouse and say to the judge “Thanks, but I would rather serve 10 years for aggravated assault than spend any more time in therapy and treatment for my drug addiction.” Sound crazy? According to Kyle, that is what goes through the heads of many offenders. The grip of the addiction is so strong that living life sober is frightening. Many choose to self-sabotage by creating problems, by assaulting or threatening another inmate and receiving an extension of their sentence.

Jason was referred to Kyle specifically as Jason reminded the counselors of Kyle, with his sleeves of tattoos just like Kyle. Kyle met with him and talked to him about meth, since they shared the same drug of choice. Kyle asked for Jason’s story, and listened. It was different from Kyle’s, but there were many similarities. Kyle shared many of Jason’s traits: Being an outlaw, an outcast, and a gang member. Jason didn’t think the meetings would be beneficial to him. Kyle shared that it was in the 12-step rooms where he truly felt alive.

Kyle asked Jason about his plan when he gets out of Johnston and allowed Jason to self-actualize as to where he wanted to be in 5 years. Jason broke down and cried during this meeting. He was frightened at what he was facing, he had a lot of anger issues, and he didn’t know what to do. So, Kyle told him what worked for him.

During the six months that offenders were at the Johnston Unit, there was no chance of them using drugs. The coaches assisted the offenders with embracing recovery, working the 12 steps and learning to use the steps in their daily prison life. Kyle coached men that were violent, had assaulted another men, were disciplinary problems, and where coaching was the last step before they were “sent back to county.” Kyle was there to stop them from rendering their sentence and losing everything. Sometimes an inmate had a family member pass away and the inmate was not granted permission to attend the funeral.  Although this coaching had nothing to do with recovery from drugs or alcohol, the recovery coaches are assigned to console these inmates through the grieving process.

When inmates were close to being released, having  no experience with 12-step meetings or recovery on the outside, and  having no intentions of asking for help, Kyle gave them some “recovery capital.” He would give them lists of AA and NA meetings near the half-way house to which they were being released.  Kyle would give them information on Community HealthCore, which is a large, social services agency in Texas with outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs. He would tell them about drug court classes and behavioral health counseling. Kyle and a few of the other recovery coaches in the Johnston Unit were from the Dallas area. When a prisoner would be going to back to the Dallas area, the coaches would refer the offenders to people on the outside who could take them to a meeting.

Another prisoner, Caleb (his real named also changed) was in the reentry process—in a few weeks he was being released to a half-way house in Beaumont, Texas. Caleb had been in this position before.  As he got  closer to the “door” he became scared, and he was afraid of going back into the real world. He was so sure that he could to do things his way, but in the back of his head, he knew that doing things his way was what had gotten him into prison several times before. Kyle ran the 12-step meetings, and Caleb would attend as a “woodworker” (working wood means doing the absolute minimum, not participating, not getting involved and not believing this program would work for them).

Kyle was assigned to speak to Caleb.  Kyle asked him what happened after he drank a beer, and Caleb admitted that after he drank one beer, it would soon be a dozen and very shortly, he was thinking about using crack (his drug of choice). Kyle knew this story very well, because it was Kyle’s story. So he shared his story with Caleb. It didn’t seem to work. Caleb kept wood working and didn’t really engage in the program. Caleb was antagonistic, he would challenge the tenets of the program, ask questions about will power, saying recovery was a choice, and that he was “not an addict forever.” He didn’t think that any program would help him, but he knew that if he went out into the real world, he would use again.

Many offenders self-sabotage their release process by getting into fights and end up staying in prison a few months longer. This happened to Caleb. He remained at the Johnston Unit a few months longer, which was just enough time to let Kyle’s work with him penetrate. Upon his release, Kyle gave Caleb the information on 12-step meetings in Beaumont and he agreed to attend the meetings. Kyle continues to communicate to Caleb, who is sober and has not re-offended.

At this point, Kyle Gage has been out of the Johnston Unit for about a year. He is wrapping up his Drug Court commitment. He is enrolled in a community college to get his Associates Degree and also works as a new car salesman. Kyle will continue recovery coaching to help himself and others maintain the recovery that he loves.

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