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Program breaks down barriers to encourage successful reintegration

Brent Kennard, who works as a recovery assistant at the Ellen O'Brien Gaiser Center, poses outside his home in Butler on Friday, March 15. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

This article is shared in its entirety as part of a conversation on addiction and pathways to recovery in our community. To read more from Changing Pathways to Recovery, a six-week series, please subscribe.

Brent Kennard struggled with addictions to substances from alcohol to opioids since he was a child. He went to jail for the first time at age 18 and was incarcerated 13 times in the Butler County Prison throughout his life.

His stays behind bars varied in length. There were short couple-day stints, long stretches of up to 18 months and everything in between.

“I struggled with addiction pretty much my entire life,” Kennard said.

In 2016, he was court-ordered to enter the prison’s reintegration program, which he said changed his life. The program offered him a chance to escape the revolving door with classes on budgeting and resume building and advice that would change his mindset on recovery.

“It was great, it actually gave me a taste of what recovery could be,” he said.

When he was released, Kennard had plans. He intended to become a certified recovery specialist.

Unfortunately, he found himself back at the jail. He relapsed in 2020 before he could reach his goal.

“I stopped doing the things that were working,” he said.

This time, he said he made a conscious choice to enter the reintegration program, and was determined to finish it a second time, even staying in jail an extra seven days to complete it. He finished the program in 2022.

This time, he wanted to ensure he was set up for success. He wouldn’t return by the revolving door.

“I was tired of sitting in jail,” he said.

Reintegration coordinator Matthew Clayton poses by the blackboard March 13 he uses to teach at the Butler County Prison. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Matthew Clayton, the reintegration coordinator for the jail, said it is typical to see the same faces return to the Butler County Prison shortly after release.

He said he makes it a point to see the inmates who end up back behind bars and ask them what happened.

“Everybody reenters,” he said. “When you leave here, it’s very easy to look for their first justification to use (drugs).”

Clayton said it is rare for an inmate not to be struggling with an addiction, but the structured environment, access to medical treatment and therapy can help them heal, even if only for a while.

“The longer they are here, they start to recover from what they were dealing with on the outside,” he said. “It’s easy to remain drug-free in jail. It’s not like it’s around every street corner.”

Every inmate who comes into the prison is assessed for their risk of recidivism, according to Clayton, and asked questions about their life on the outside.

“We see everybody regardless of (what they are charged with). We ask questions about addiction during that assessment,” he said.

The assessment seeks to evaluate how difficult life will be for inmates once they’re released.

“We’re asking, ‘Hey, why do you keep coming back to jail?’” he said. “We attack those barriers prior to their leaving.”

Those barriers include finding a job, transportation, continued treatment options and making payments.

People are at the highest risk for recidivism three months after release, according to Clayton. For that reason, the prison’s program lasts four months, and involves frequent checks with Clayton, probation officers and case managers from Glade Run Lutheran Services.

With the exception of a judge ordering an inmate to adhere to a reintegration plan, it is the inmate’s choice if they want to receive treatment or attend classes while in jail, according to Clayton.

“The only one who can force them into drug and alcohol treatment is a court order,” he said.

Preparing people for reentry

The jail’s medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, program is a combination of medical and therapeutic treatment for inmates struggling with addiction.

What MAT does well, according to Clayton, is prevent the risk of overdose when inmates are released.

To receive MAT, inmates must meet certain health criteria. The treatment combines behavioral therapy and counseling with addiction treatment medication including Suboxone and Sublocade.

Clayton said Subxone is administered in pill form once a day, whereas Sublocade, which is also used to treat opioid addictions, is administered by a shot to the abdomen once a month.

The prison also treats patients using methadone and Vivatrol. Clayton described Vivatrol as a more preventive drug.

Before MAT came along, Clayton said medical staff merely treated those who were addicted for their withdrawal symptoms.

Other ways to prepare inmates for release are the classes offered in the jail. Thirteen classes are currently available, and explore drug and alcohol addiction, parenting, anger management, financial literacy and more.

Some classes are discussion based, as Clayton said the sharing of experiences often creates connections and change in the inmates’ lives.

“The classes are pretty interesting — that’s when you learn a lot about them,” he said. “I’m learning about that world through them.”

The drug and alcohol class taught by the Ellen O’Brien Gaiser Center allows 10 to 12 inmates at a time to ensure everyone has a chance to participate.

Sometimes people attend the classes out of boredom, Clayton said, but often they come away having an “aha” moment about something they have experienced with addiction.

“It’s stuff they know, but now, there’s a scientific definition to it,” he said.

Having taken the Gaiser center-led drug and alcohol course at the jail twice, Kennard said, he made it a point to try becoming a certified recovery specialist following his second time in the reintegration program.

When he completed the program and was released again in 2022, Kennard said he felt he had the tools he needed to succeed.

“I had the drive,” he said. “I knew what I needed to do this time. I had a different attitude. I knew where to get the resources and what to do.”

He became certified recovery specialist certified in November 2023 and currently works as a recovery specialist at the Gaiser center.

About 20% to 30% of inmates choose to take classes, and according to Clayton, they are very productive classes. However, not all the participants are able to finish them.

The average length of time an inmate spends in jail is 30 days, according to Clayton, meaning sometimes inmates in addiction aren’t able to finish classes they started while behind bars.

Should an inmate be released from Butler County Prison, transferred to a different jail, or meet bail, medical treatment can continue, but not class participation. Clayton said Suboxone treatments are ongoing, even if an inmate is transferred to another jail, and the Gaiser center provides the contacts and resources needed to receive treatment outside the jail’s walls.

Another program through the Center for Community Resources, called family group decision making, involves the inmate, their family, a case manager, probation officer, and Clayton meeting in a room to discuss the expectations of the family’s dynamic once an inmate comes home.

The group will meet two or three months after an inmate’s release for a status update, according to Clayton.

Challenges post-release

With the treatments set up and therapy resources available for inmates, Clayton said on of their biggest struggles has been finding them shelter upon release.

“Housing once they leave is one of our biggest issues,” he said. “The things you need to survive, we try to set them up before they leave.”

To alleviate this problem for former inmates being treated for addiction, Clayton was able to set up an apartment and rent it out for a discounted rate to get them on the right track. In fact, the first month’s rent is free.

“A big thing is it’s three to four weeks before you get a paycheck,” Clayton explained.

The apartment is within walking distance of the Gaiser center, the jail, the courthouse, and other places former inmates would have to check in following release.

Clayton said the first tenant has had a successful three months in the apartment so far.

The rent goes back into the reintegration program, according to Clayton.

Not every release is followed by a success story though, Clayton said, as he often sees those struggling with addiction charged for drug use over and over again.

“You’re going from such a structured environment to no structure at all. They don’t respond well to that,” he said. “A lot of people try to go to rehab after jail … but it’s not going to take unless you want it to take. It’s a cognitive choice.”

Clayton added that the jail’s seclusion from drugs, constant accountability and easy access to treatment are part of the reason it is difficult for those with addictions to succeed when released.

“I see the real person when they’re here, they’re not in their addictions here,” he said.

Improving the program involves talking with those who return to the jail and asking what could have been done better, Clayton said.

For Kennard, his suggestion of what might be useful is having certified recovery specialists from Gaiser work with people still in the jail’s program.

“I think the program is really great. I think everyone should do it,” he said.

This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. March 27, 2024 to reflect the correct timeline of Brent Kennard’s recovery and his role at the Ellen O'Brien Gaiser Center as a recovery assistant.

Reintegration coordinator Matthew Clayton poses in the room where he teaches at the Butler County Prison on Wednesday, March 13. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Reintegration coordinator Matthew Clayton writes on the blackboard he uses to teach at the Butler County Prison on Wednesday, March 13. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Brent Kennard, who works as a recovery assistant at the Ellen O'Brien Gaiser Center, poses outside his home in Butler on Friday, March 15. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Brent Kennard, who works as a recovery assistant at the Ellen O'Brien Gaiser Center, poses outside his home in Butler on Friday, March 15. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Brent Kennard, who works as a recovery assistant at the Ellen O'Brien Gaiser Center, poses outside his home in Butler on Friday, March 15. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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