My Name Is Victor, and I'm a Jailbird

Too bad the county makes it so hard for me to get into a recovery program

Lois Spears, director of Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation, refused to discuss her department's policies regarding volunteer recovery programs such as AA and NA.

Brian and the other AA members who regularly visit jails and prisons refuse to criticize corrections officials at any facility, however, and are quick to list legitimate reasons why any given meeting might be cancelled or delayed: The facility could be conducting a head check or random drug search; an inmate who signed up for a meeting could be under disciplinary action; some inmates could be determined to be security risks. But there have also been cases of lost paperwork or miscommunication resulting in no one knowing an AA or NA meeting was even scheduled. "About twenty percent of the time we show up for a meeting, we get turned away," says Fred, an AA member and ex-con who is one of the most active group leaders in local jails and prisons.

"I think we could be more user-friendly as far as the volunteers -- trying to treat them properly when they come in, don't make them wait two hours if they do come in," acknowledges Joel Botner, director of inmate programming at Metro-West, which AA volunteers say actually is more accommodating than other local jails. "I think we could also get the word out [about meetings] better to the inmate population."

Brian has never been locked up, but he agrees with the AA adage that all active alcoholics are prisoners of their disease
Steve Satterwhite
Brian has never been locked up, but he agrees with the AA adage that all active alcoholics are prisoners of their disease

Beyond the apparently widespread problem of inmates not being informed of the existence of recovery meetings within their facility, prisoners themselves often are unreceptive. "If inmates don't really, really want a program, they're not going to go," says William Adams, a former corrections officer who currently finds jobs for ex-prisoners as part of his duties at the school district's Miami Skill Center and Lindsey Hopkins Technical School. Adams also has made presentations for NA at the county's Training and Treatment Center, commonly known as the Stockade. "Because they're abstinent -- for the most part -- in jail, they're under the illusion they're all right and don't have a drug problem anymore. But they come out after three or five years, and the first thing, they use drugs. It doesn't matter how long they've been abstinent."

Adds Skip, NA's regional coordinator of prison visits: "If the inmates contact us, we're more than happy to go, but we have to have a request. We can't advertise, and we have limited resources." Skip estimates NA conducts 90 to 100 meetings per week in Miami-Dade's drug-treatment centers and correctional facilities; about 70 percent of the meetings take place at treatment institutions.

Which may explain why some corrections officials say they simply don't see much of NA. "They'll come for two or three months, then just stop coming, and I can't reach them," says Metro-West's Botner.

Not many AA or NA members are willing to devote several hours a week to interacting with accused or convicted criminals, according to Brian, AA's local volunteer prison coordinator. "I have a hard time drumming up people to take meetings [into jails and prisons]," he remarks. "It's not the kind of thing AA members are clamoring to do. It takes a special personality to walk in there with doors slamming behind you, being in a room with some hardened criminals, many times lifers."

Despite all the obstacles, though, Broward has been more successful than Miami-Dade in overcoming them. AA conducts eighteen meetings per week just at the BSO's Joseph V. Conte center, which houses more than 1000 nonviolent offenders with drug and alcohol problems. In Miami-Dade it's almost unheard of for any facility to see more than one AA meeting per week.

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