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Graduates of Porter County addictions program say goodbye to drugs, alcohol

Rafael Pimentel Chicago looks up while reading his 'goodbye letter' during graduaticeremony for Porter County Jail's Chemical Dependency Chemical Addictiprogram

Rafael Pimentel, of Chicago, looks up while reading his "goodbye letter" during a graduation ceremony for the Porter County Jail's Chemical Dependency and Chemical Addiction program in Valparaiso Wednesday Dec. 12, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 14, 2013 7:21AM



VALPARAISO — These were goodbye letters of a different sort, a farewell to addiction and lives ruined from substance abuse.

“Dear Xanax and Vicodin,” wrote one graduate of the Porter County Jail’s Chemical Dependency and Addiction Program, “when we first met, I thought I found everything I was looking for.”

The inmate, one of 41 male graduates during a ceremony Wednesday marking 10 years of the program, went on to say the drugs soon turned on him, and he couldn’t go anywhere without them.

He got into legal trouble, and the drugs caused too much pain and sorry for him and his family.

“I must let you go, or you will take me to prison or the grave. I know it will be too late then,” he said, adding he hopes to never meet them again.

The program, a partnership with Porter-Starke Services, has had 2,028 graduates since it was started in 2002 by then-Sheriff David Reynolds. It has served 4,000 inmates overall, officials said, but some inmates dropped out of the program because they were released from jail or got into trouble.

The program’s recidivism rate is about 50 percent, said Gwen Schilling, who facilitates the program for female inmates.

“That might sound like a lot, but it’s well under the national average of 67 percent,” she said, adding the recidivism rate here is based on how many graduates return to the county jail.

Most of the inmates who go through the program struggle with addiction to alcohol or opiates, including heroin, Oxycontin and Vicodin, Schilling said. Inmates are encouraged to continue their recovery after graduation through 12-step programs, or residential or outpatient therapy.

Inmates can be ordered by the court to attend the program, or choose to enroll on their own.

Sheriff David Lain asked the inmates, some of who were to be released after the ceremony, where they were 10 years ago.

“You couldn’t imagine being here 10 years ago,” he said, adding some of the inmates were still in school. “You weren’t thinking about getting whatever the stuff is that’s gotten you here today.”

That addiction will always been on the graduates’ minds, Lain said, but because of the program, “that’s where it can stay. It doesn’t have to go any further than that.”

Their letters, though, best illustrated the inmates’ journeys. One inmate addressed his letter to alcohol, and said he knew it would always be on his mind. His addiction cost him his job and 440 days of his life spent in jail.

“If you look and can’t find me,” he wrote, “I am starting a new life without you, so goodbye.”



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