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July 19, 2019

abigail bostwick/lakeland times

Readiness for Recovery graduate Vanessa Peterson, second from right, is pictured with Vilas County correctional officer Alisha Wagner, Peter Christensen Health Center medical social worker Julie DeVerney, and Vilas County Jail administrator Bill Weiss.
abigail bostwick/lakeland times

Readiness for Recovery graduate Vanessa Peterson, second from right, is pictured with Vilas County correctional officer Alisha Wagner, Peter Christensen Health Center medical social worker Julie DeVerney, and Vilas County Jail administrator Bill Weiss.
6/8/2019 7:30:00 AM
Ready to change from life of addiction
Three graduate from Vilas County Recovery Pod
Abigail Bostwick
Of The Lakeland Times

A waiting list usually indicates frustration, but for the Vilas County Jail Recovery Pod program, a waiting list illustrates hope and a potential commitment to change.

A high percentage of jail inmates are addicts, and many are likely to reoffend after leaving jail, coming back within months or over and over. Much of this is due to opioids and other drugs - a consistent and continually growing issue in the Northwoods, accounting for some 80 to 85 percent of those arrested in the area, it has been noted.

Readiness for Recovery is an effort at the jail which inmates can apply for to overcome alcohol, drug or other addictions. The program began last fall.

Since its inception, there have been three female graduates: Vanessa Peterson, Felisha Peterson and Terri Turney. A party and small ceremony was held for the grads.

"Incarceration alone is not going to fix the substance abuse problem in our community," Vilas County jail administrator Bill Weiss observed. "Treatment and education are essential components in addressing this problem. We feel that Readiness for Recovery will make a difference in helping individuals with substance abuse issues."

The recovery pod program - with 14 beds for males and 8 beds for females - separates volunteer inmates from the rest of the population and immerses them in a lifestyle nearly entirely focused on rehabilitation and reintegration to society.

To enter the program, inmates must show a commitment to change through an application process. They must also have good behavior, have a four-week minimum stay, attend four core classes each week and submit a letter of interest expressing why they want to change, explain their substance abuse and how long they'll be in jail.

"It really has gotten some momentum," Weiss said of the program in the community.

The program itself is a multi-entity effort, including not only the county and its jail but also other communities and organizations.


Those who are accepted enter Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT), which is facilitated by Peter Christensen Healthcare Center (PCHC) in Lac du Flambeau at the jail twice a week. MRT is a cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) system enhancing moral reasoning, better decision making and more appropriate behavior, it was noted.

"It's very strict coursework," said PCHC medical social worker Julie DeVerney, who co-operates the program at the jail with Patrick Day from the Family Resource Center in Lac du Flambeau. "It's really about trying to help people succeed."

"MRT is what drives the recovery program," Weiss said.

MRT is one the of the most integral parts of the Readiness for Recovery. It is an evidence-based, step-by-step program, designed to increase self-image, grow a positive identity and develop higher moral reasoning. It is widely recognized as a "best practice" by many government agencies and treatment authorities, DeVerney explained.

"The fundamental part of MRT is to reduce recidivism," DeVerney said. "That is, we are trying to reduce participants' rearrests and re-incarceration after they are released."

Any bad behavior means losing steps and sending them back to re-do them.

Those who wish to continue MRT after leaving jail will soon have the option through 7-Gen Services of Lac du Flambeau, DeVerney said.

Smart Recovery Inside and Out

Smart Recovery Inside and Out is another aspect, brought by Marshfield Clinic/Americorps Recovery Program. Program manager Becky Boquist supervises three recovery coaches who run the program two days per week. It's an additional CBT program. Coaches help inmates with release planning, including finding a ride home, employment, housing, clothing, food and medication, Weiss noted.

Houses of Healing

Yet another arm of Readiness for Recovery is Houses of Healing, operated by advanced correctional health care counselor Lisa Mohawk of Woodruff, once a week. Houses of Healing examines healing relationships, stress management, self-understanding and "ways to experience freedom even if behind bars."

Circle of Change

Circle of Change is run by Richard McCoy from Lac du Flambeau and Jay Wentworth of Eagle River. It's a recovery-based program based on Native American teachings which incorporate mind, body, spirit and emotions, two evenings a week.

UW Extension

The University of Wisconsin Extension also has taken part in the effort with "Taking Care of You." Health and well being educator Sara Richie is working with the college to develop and bring this pilot program once per month. It's just beginning this spring.

Community Re-Entry Program

Finally, the Community Re-Entry Program allows inmates 90 to 120 days from release to apply to go to Gookomis Endaad in Lac du Flambeau for inpatient treatment post-sentence. There, they have the option of medication-assisted therapy.

Inmates must pay for the cost of electronic monitoring, just over $5 per day, and be referred by Judge Neal Nielsen, Weiss or probation and parole.

In the future, Weiss said the Vilas County Jail is looking for ways to offer Vivitrol, a medication which "stops cravings for alcohol and opioids," prior to release, noted Weiss and DeVerney. More work needs to be completed in the long process, however, and includes lab testing and funding as well as education for inmates.

"We want people to have the option to be on Vivitrol," Weiss said.

Also on deck, an Americorp Recovery worker is expected to come on board at about 34 hours per week to continue work with MRT.

"We're really excited about that," Weiss said.

Readiness for Recovery has high expectations and standards, Weiss observed. Inmates are required to attend all core programs and must be excused if not feeling well. All homework has to be completed prior to classes, which are interactive and require active participation. A first violation is a warning and documented. The second may result in swift dismissal from the program.

"Inmates in the program shall be held to a higher standard than other inmates," Weiss said.

If terminated, the inmate cannot reapply for at least a month.

The entire program takes about eight weeks to complete, depending on individual levels.

The county and its agencies working in the Readiness for Recovery program are all very proud of the three recent graduates and they look forwarding to seeing more graduates, Weiss said.

"We have a waiting list," Weiss said. "Everybody is considered."

"They're really proud," DeVerney said. "Everyone is really warm and accepting from the Tribal Council, and approves of the efforts at the jail. This is a fresh new approach where they are trying to help folks."

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