Recently, I had a chance to observe the “It’s T.I.M.E.” class in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. It was Session 15, Module 11. Anger Management. The men in the class had different amounts of time spent within the prison system.
Throughout this session, there was a genuine exchange of emotion between the class of people that had bonded in a small group with connections about anger and what it meant to redirect that feeling in life. One man, who has been incarcerated for 18 years, admitted for the first time in life, in this class, that he feared reintegrating himself into the community. When he admitted this, the rest of the class reassured him that he could make it.
Another individual also shared that he felt his life had changed for the better. Now, while he is in jail, he looks forward to the class, and when there isn’t class, he participates in religion at the Chapel, and if not that, then AA or NA meetings.
During this session, and previous sessions of the “It’s T.I.M.E.” classes, JB, the facilitator of the class, really pours his energy into showing the classmates that he is an example of all the changes that he teaches. He relates directly because of his lived experience, how vested he is in the class, and because JB wants this class to continue just as much as the classmates do.
I see that our “It’s T.I.M.E.” class is making a true difference for people of diverse walks of life. The incarceration for each individual varies, but what is indicative is that no matter what the age is, everybody has something to offer to each other, and that is hope, resiliency, and recovery.
By: Jomel Silverio, Peer Advocate at Community Advocates
Community Advocates has been facilitating a justice and recovery reentry class at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility for the past four years. We are currently mid-way through the 15th session of the “It’s T.I.M.E.” class. T.I.M.E. stands for “Think, Identify, Make changes, and Enter a new life”. Since 2011, 153 students participated in the class, 89 of whom graduated with certificates. In 2015, three sessions were completed with 51 men participating and 36 of those individuals successfully completed the class.
We would like to share a few successes that students have experienced by taking the class since it began. Here they are:
Story 1 – Dave
A young man in his 20s, Dave found himself in jail after struggling several years with mental illness and drug addiction. Bright and ambitious, Dave was determined not to lose faith in himself. He volunteered to join the It’s T.I.M.E. class to learn more about himself and resources he could use to overcome the obstacles of incarceration, addiction and emotional pain. While in class he learned about the Behavioral Health Court, a specialty court that helps divert non-violent offenders from jail into treatment. The peer advocate who facilitates the class worked closely with Dave and Dave’s public defender to identify a re-entry plan for the community since Dave had nowhere to go after jail. Because the peer advocate knows many resources in the county, he felt that Dave would do well in a structured residential program that would provide support and treatment for his co-occurring conditions. Dave was able to successfully complete both the Behavioral Health Court and the residential program. At the residential program, Dave began sharing his knowledge of mindfulness meditation with the staff and other residents and soon began leading meditation groups. He is now taking college courses, working out intensely and participating with advocates in promoting major changes in the correctional and mental health/drug and alcohol systems to help others who are trying to change their lives and become productive citizens in our communities.
Story 2 – Mark
Mark was anxious and a bit manic. He wasn’t sure which way his case would turn out. Would the judge give him a break? Would he see his public defender before he got to court? All these thoughts swirled through his head. During the “It’s T.I.M.E.” class, Mark raised his concerns. The instructor, J.B., was patient and understanding. He gave tips on how to navigate the criminal justice system. He walked Mark and the other students through their individual Re-entry Plans. On graduation day, J.B. gave all the students a Certificate of Completion and also a one-page list of instructions on what to do “Upon Release”. These pieces of paper would inevitably help Mark more than he could have imagined. Mark went to court and got time served. He was released from jail. Thankfully, a relative had a car and picked him up because there would be a lot of driving to do. Unfortunately, when Mark left jail, he was only given a three-day supply of two of the three medications he was taking in jail, and no prescription for more. It takes at least six weeks to see a psychiatrist. So he followed J.B.’s instructions. He went to the Probation Office where the officers thought he was high. He wasn’t. He was upset. They made him take a drug test. It was negative. Then they started listening to Mark. He showed them his Re-entry Plan and the list of things to do “Upon Release”. Probation gave him the list of medications he was taking (the jail doesn’t give you that information when you are released). From there, he went to one mental health agency and then another, both saying it would be six weeks before he’d get an appointment with a psychiatrist. And no, they couldn’t give emergency medications. They suggested going to an ER for medications with a “good luck” before hanging up. So Mark called J.B. at the office, asking for advice. J.B. urged Mark to try the ER and if that didn’t work, call back. In desperation, Mark went to the Einstein Hospital ER. Because he had his list of medications and because he had made an appointment at one of the mental health agencies (he showed them the appointment card), he was given enough medication to last until his appointment. Mark showed incredible fortitude and perseverance in accomplishing these feats. Coming out of jail is hard enough on a person let alone having to spend your first day out trying to get the medication that will help you stay well. But Mark was prepared with the knowledge and resources to get the job done.
Story 3 – William
William participated in one of the first “It’s T.I.M.E.” sessions. A quiet young man, he faithfully attended every class. Individuals aren’t asked to reveal their diagnosis in class unless they feel comfortable about it. So initially the teacher wasn’t sure what was going on with William. Occasionally, he would just stare off into space. When asked a question, it took him a while before he could articulate an answer. One of the younger inmates would make fun of William while an older individual took William under his wing. The peer advocate contacted William’s mother and father who were divorced but both very involved with their son. It was discovered that William had suffered a traumatic brain injury a few years earlier and would often have seizures where he would just stop talking in mid-sentence. This was our first experience with TBI. After researching it and finding a local expert, the peer advocate explained to the class what William was going through (with William’s permission). It was a turning point for William and his classmates. The class was kinder to William. We supported William’s desire to enter Behavioral Health Court. But on first application, he was denied. We kept working with William who attended a second session of the class to keep learning and to improve himself. Months later, we helped him apply again for the specialty court. He was accepted. The judge who presided over the court was very patient with William who brought notebooks with him to help remember what he did during the past week so he could report accurately to the judge. William was living with his mother while participating in the court. But his mother became ill and could no longer support William at home. With the help of community supports, William moved into a residential program. Despite the death of his mother, William graduated from the court and today is looking for a part-time job. Without his perseverance and the dedication of advocates who believed in him, William could have remained in jail for many years due to the severity of his charges.