By Mike Pettinella
After serving about 15 years in jail or prison in three states and being subject to subpar living conditions afterwards, a Genesee County resident trying to put his life back together said his participation in Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse’s Reentry Program is giving him his best chance yet.
“I’ve been to a halfway house and it was terrible; drugs, hookers and dealers. My parole officer recommended this program and, here, you have your privacy and it’s a safer and healthier environment,” said Jim (not his real name), speaking about his placement in the program’s recently-opened house for men.
Jim said his goal is to reunite with his wife and “to stay sober.”
He said program staff has connected him to mental health, substance use and family counseling services in a way that he doesn’t feel pressured or judged.
“And I am going to (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings because I know I need to, not because I’m being forced to,” he offered, acknowledging that he has clashed with authority figures in the past.
The client, now in his 50s, said the UConnectCare staff of three men who work at the house have been very supportive.
“I’m definitely out of a bad situation, and I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said. “The guys here are great.”
The voluntary, grant funded program has well-developed policies and procedures and has defined criteria for eligibility, Coordinator Trisha Allen said.
Allen, who started as a Peer Recovery Advocate at UConnectCare three years ago, said for men to be eligible they must have substance use disorder issues, whether they have been diagnosed or not; must be reentering (or recently reentered) the community after serving at least three months in incarceration or one month for a violation, and must be returning to Genesee or Orleans county.
Sex offenders or arsonists will not be admitted into the house although they can be helped in the program through care management and peer support.
Currently, two of the program’s 16 participants are staying at the house, which has five bedrooms. Residents have access to two bathrooms, a living area with television and computer workstation, and a kitchen.
“Men are referred by parole board, probation department or self-referred, and stay free of charge,” she said. “The home is staffed from the hours of 8 a.m. to at least 9 p.m., and residents are required to be at the home before staff leaves at night.”
Allen said the home, which is located in Batavia, serves as a place for those who have nowhere to go.
“It is safe and supportive,” she advised. “Too many times, these men are placed in environments where it is detrimental to their recovery.”
Her staff consists of Case Manager Casey Moulton and Chester Shivers, Jason Rolle and John Benjamin, Reentry staff who have received Peer training.
Moulton said he worked in caregiving and respite surroundings prior to taking a position with UConnectCare.
“I like the idea that we could curb recidivism by creating a new way to approach people with trauma and great need,” he said, adding that his appreciation for the arts and culture give him a unique perspective to interact with those who have been imprisoned.
Shivers, a Scranton, Pa., native, said he moved to Batavia in 2016.
Formerly incarcerated, he went through a reentry program at another location. He said it helped him to learn patience and to make healthy decisions.
“I take one day at a time, and wish to share the same hope that was given to me to others,” he said.
Allen said she is thankful that Shivers, Rolle and Benjamin are part of the UConnectCare team as they can relate to those who were incarcerated.
“That’s what we needed – the lived experience,” she said. “My goal was to get as many staff as we could with lived experience. We’re fortunate, especially with them being men. It’s beneficial to have men supporting other men.”
Later this fall, a home for females that were incarcerated is expected to open at a location in Batavia. Allen said she plans to hire a couple of female staff members.