GREENFIELD — They stand in a circle, fists clasped and lifted in solidarity, chanting the prayer in one voice: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
A television blares in the background. One of their orange-clad fellows sleeps on a mattress on the floor, a blanket pulled up over his head as if to block out the noise. Others trek back and forth from a shared shower.
Twenty men currently participate in a probation-provided recovery program inside the Hancock County Jail, but the facility lacks a space to remove them from the general population.
Overcrowding prevents these inmates, who are battling addiction but want to get clean, from truly being separated from the influence of their peers.
But that’s about the change. Soon, these inmates will have a safe, more private space to be vulnerable, to share the stories of their addictions in hopes of overcoming the hold drug use has on them.
While the debate over the need for a new jail rages on, the county plans to move forward and spend about $100,000 to convert an indoor recreation area inside the current facility at 123 E. Main St. into a dormitory big enough to house 16 male inmates who are part of a drug treatment program.
Contractors will add showers, toilets and beds to the rec area, converting it into a living space that will give these inmates room to go through the program, away from any taunts and bad influence they said they sometimes endure from their peers.
There, they can build a community, find support and hold each other accountable as they walk the road to recovery — an important aspect to finally getting clean, advocates of the program said.
Four new officers — one person per 12-hour shift — will be hired to help oversee the additional space, at a cost of about $300,000 annually from the county’s general fund, officials said. The proposal is expected to be approved at an upcoming Hancock County Council meeting, Councilman Jim Shelby said. Construction should begin in June and completed in July.
But leaders of the local sheriff’s department caution that this recovery block is only temporary: the state jail’s commissioner, who is tasked with inspecting all Indiana jails to ensure staffs are following state standards, has allowed the construction only because Hancock County is working toward building a new jail, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s chief deputy.
If designs for the new $30 million, 430-bed facility weren’t being finalized, the county wouldn’t have been allowed to move forward with the remodel because it takes away from the exercise space the jail is required to offer inmates, Burkhart said.
As it exists right now, the jail’s indoor recreation room is a small gymnasium, consisting of a hardwood floor, concrete walls and a single basketball hoop, located in the northeast corner of the jail.
Inmates are given the chance to leave their cellblocks for one hour, twice a week, to visit the rec area — or its outdoor counterpart, which consists of a concrete enclosure with an open, caged roof, located on the opposite side of the building — to burn off energy and get some exercise, said jail officer Mark Hill.
But inmates rarely use the indoor rec area because there isn’t much they can do there except walk the perimeter of the room, Hill said. They aren’t allowed a basketball anymore because too many people fought over it, he added.
The room’s wooden floors and sturdy walls, however, offer the perfect structure to for a new living area — one county officials said will serve the dual purpose of easing some overcrowding in the cellblocks and giving those inmates looking to use their incarceration to get clean some much-needed segregation.
Kevin Minnick, a prevention specialist and counselor who works for the Hancock County Probation Department, runs the men’s Jail Interdiction Program, or JIP, now offered in the jail. The same program is offered to women booked into the facility, but only men will move into the new recovery dorm.
JIP uses to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous program but goes a bit deeper, teaching participants about what originally led them to drug use and what drives them to continue that drug use. In the group meetings, they talk about their triggers and hardships they faced in life, Minnick said.
Hearing that others have been through the same things they have gives those in recovery more confidence, Minnick said. It helps them form bonds and teaches them to ask for help when they need it, he said.
The only incentive to JIP is recovery, Minnick said. All inmates voluntarily participate in the program. They receive a certificate of completion they can show a judge, but they aren’t promised any reduction in sentence in exchange.
Since it was first introduced at the jail last year, the program has been successful in cutting down on re-offening rates — at least so far, Minnick said. Of the 93 men who participated in the JIP in 2017, 12 have been re-arrested, probation statistics show. Eighty-seven women participated in 2017, and nine have since been re-arrested.
Originally, the program met only once a week for an hour; but it’s grown to three hour-long meetings a week, Minnick said. Once the new recovery dorm opens, he hopes to expand to meeting five days a week, perhaps multiple times a day, he said.
When they learned of the proposed remodel, a ripple of excitement ran through the crowd of inmates gathered on a recent afternoon for a JIP meeting. It’s true that some have suffered bullying or teasing for participating in the program, so the idea that they’ll have their own space is intriguing. Once the new dorm opens, they won’t have to worry about their meetings being interrupted or their convictions being shaken.
“I don’t want those people around me when I’m trying to get my head straight,” inmate Dustin Atkins said.
Inmates in recovery are protective of their program and each other, they said. Even though they’re still locked up, they can feel themselves changing. They’re learning about themselves, thinking about their lives in ways they never have before. It’s made some of them optimistic for the first time.
“We’re not statistics,” inmate Chris Hobbs said. “This will keep us out, keep us from coming back again.”