Speaker offers dose of hope at county jail
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado –Normand Cartier was probably going to drink himself to death. In 2005, he had been living in a tent in the woods of Rhode Island, dedicated to his alcohol addiction. He hadn’t seen his three kids in 13 years and the middle-aged man didn’t imagine his life could change.
“I kept hoping I would get hit by a car and die as I was crossing the street,” he said to an audience at the Eagle County jail last week.
Cartier had tried getting sober through various programs but kept relapsing. A random, good-will intervention by a documentary film crew helped him flip his life around, however, and now the former homeless alcoholic tours the country to give others hope.
Hope can be especially hard to kindle in those who are in and out of jail and other rehabilitation programs, and don’t always have the money to get the help they need. Hope is apparently what Cartier inspired at the new county detention center, though, as orange-clad inmates and general audience members alike rose from their seats to give him a standing ovation.
Staff members at the county detention center noticed an upbeat attitude among the inmates in the days after the film, “Lost in Woonsocket,” and Cartier’s presentation. Cartier even went upstairs to speak more personally with the inmates after the rest of the audience had left.
“There were a lot of questions and I think it opened some avenues for the guys,” said Sgt. Tom Brandl, who was guarding the inmates during the presentation. “I think it gave them more hope – (Cartier) gave them advice as to where they can get help.”
The jail’s administrator, Capt. Bill Kaufman, says more than 95 percent of people in the jail are there because of events related to substance abuse – 99 percent “if you include anger issues,” he said.
After the film, which chronicled Cartier’s recovery, one inmate said he’s been in the jail for more than a year and when he gets out, he won’t have any money, which will make it difficult to get the help for his problem.
That is the kind of issue Cartier and Lost and Found in America (lafia.org) are campaigning to address all over the country. A big part of their message is that no one does it alone, which is why “Lost in Woonsocket” had different meanings for the group of people watching it.
“To me it is about focusing more on long-term recovery and programing in the jail,” Kaufman said. “For the attorneys it might be about alternative sentencings, for the mental health professionals it might be more about conviction of helping addicts, for the addicts themselves it might be, simply, hope and determination that changing one’s way is not only good for the community, friends and family but, more importantly, good for themselves.”
“I thought having everybody being there was pretty neat,” Brandl said of the event, which included kids on probation, recovering substance addicts who were not in jail, court staff members and citizens in general.
So what is available to help people struggling with these problems in Eagle County? Kaufman pointed to rehabilitation and life skills programs and Eagle County Health and Human Services. The county contracts with Colorado West Regional Mental Health Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation that services a 10-county area.
Krista McClinton, Eagle County director for Colorado West, used the company’s outpatient program as an example for the costs a patient might face. For 16 weeks, a patient would attend twice a week at $60 per class. A twice-a-week Alcoholics Anonymous component is also encouraged, but AA is free.
Then, after the first 16 weeks, an after-care program lasts four months, meeting once a week at $35 per class. However, it is possible for patients to pay on a sliding scale up to 50 percent off and some indigent scholarships are available.
“Certain populations that are at risk for going to jail again can qualify for state funding through Senate Bill 97, which Colorado West receives,” McClinton said. “However, the state is talking about cutting that funding.”
Colorado ranks among the highest for prevalence of substance abuse, yet among the lowest in state funding for addressing that problem, McClinton said.
“I hope that as our awareness increases state funding will, too,” she said as an 18-year veteran of the mental health industry. “Awareness and acceptance are key issues.”
Other services Colorado West provides include outpatient mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, consultation and education, partial hospitalization, 24-hour emergency services, involuntary hospitalization, short- and long-term residential facilities, school-based programs, intensive family intervention and employee assistance programs.
Not all of the services are available in Eagle County, though. For example, a patient in need of a detox facility would have to go to Summit or Garfield counties.
McClinton said a group of entities including Vail Valley Medical Center, Health and Human Services, law enforcement and even the restaurant and bar association have been meeting to determine if it would be cost effective to have a detox facility in Eagle County.
“The restaurants and bars have a lot at stake and they are a great piece of the puzzle to bring to the table,” McClinton said.
McClinton said every demographic is represented in the programs, from 18-year-olds to working class to homeless people.
Of all the people participating in Eagle County Colorado West programs, McClinton estimated about 20 percent to 30 percent of those are paying full price.
“That has changed a lot in the last year, though, with the downturn economy,” McClinton said, adding that there has also been an increase in referrals with the downturn.