Sammy’s life has followed a sad and familiar path. Abused as a child. Shuffled between foster homes while his mother served time in prison. Imprisoned himself as an adult after turning to substance abuse and the self-destructive behavior that comes with it.
“I didn’t realize that what I went through in childhood made me into the person I am right now,” he says. “I went through some pretty messed up stuff and I thought I was dealing with it the best way I could when in reality I didn’t know about to deal with it.”
After an 8 ½ year stint in prison, Sammy had big plans for getting his life together.
“Within four months,” he says, “I was using drugs again.”
A dirty UA, as they call it, landed him back behind bars in the Maricopa County jail system. He was sentenced to five months of county time for violating the terms of his probation.
Prosecutors offered Sammy a deal: he could serve less time if he completed the county’s brand new MOSAIC treatment program. The 7-week curriculum run by Maricopa County Correctional Health Services (CHS) is designed for medium and high risk inmates who struggle with substance abuse.
“I didn’t know what was involved,” he said. Sammy quickly found out he’d be asked to dig deep into his past, to acknowledge the pain, and to realize the childhood experiences that were ‘normal’ to him shouldn’t be normal to anyone.
100,000 inmates a year will go through the Maricopa County jail system. More than 50% will come back within 12 months of release. It’s a problem with both financial and moral implications. Governments that can reduce recidivism save taxpayers money and strengthen communities. But how do you get someone like Sammy to stop doing something they’ve been doing their entire life?
“My coping skills that I knew were negative. Getting high, fighting.”
“What we see now is all these interrelationships between exposure to trauma, poverty, violence, substance abuse and then incarceration,” says Dr. Dawn Noggle, Mental Health Director for CHS. “If we can start to address that with treatment, it really helps these individuals understand the connections that led to their use.” Once they are aware of the root causes of their substance abuse, they are taught skills to deal with the challenging emotions that arise from past trauma. Skills that, ideally, replace the need for drugs or alcohol.
“Substance abuse is a very important factor in recidivism,” says Kara, a Mental Health Associate with CHS who teaches MOSAIC classes. “People who are abusing substances will also steal and be more prone to violence. It mirrors the childhood that they had generally.”
After completing the 7-week MOSAIC program, Sammy speaks of the new skills he has. “When someone makes you mad or someone makes you sad, it’s not that person. It’s something inside of you that maybe might be unconscious that you don’t even realize. So when you start correcting your speech to say ‘I feel this way because of this’ instead of ‘You made me feel this way’ people understand you and feel more open to hearing you out and accepting what you have to say.” That, he says, was an “aha moment. Like, ‘Hey, this stuff works. This is what I’ve been missing. This is how I get my point across without blowing up or getting angry.’”