CAL 3: Hope & The Letter

What it Takes to Change a Life (CAL)

Dr. Joseph White & the FFL Team

Incarceration vs. Freedom

Imagine for a moment what incarceration life is like…  It is intensely regimented.  From the moment one wakes up to when they go to sleep, they are told what activities are acceptable and when they are allowed to perform them (Vanglad).  Family contact (if one is lucky) will typically occur on the other side of a screen.  Some individuals may be allowed to have a prison “job” or further their education, but there is no vacation or going out for lunch.  Clark (2012) talked about the total security found in prison; They provide food, clothing, medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.

There are a host of reasons someone ends up incarcerated, one of which often involves addiction. Many who become dependent on illegal substances or alcohol eventually find themselves in a dark world, with very little hope of getting out.  The ultimate costs of addiction are incalculable – loss of hope, loss of material possessions, loss of relationships with loved ones, loss of self-worth, etc.  One of MentorWorks’ key objectives is to reignite hope and empower belief in self to overcome life’s challenges.  

The Admittance Letter

Dr. White (2022) shared how several clients told their story of receiving their long-awaited MentorWorks admittance letter, going to their cell bed, and shedding tears of joy as they read about their acceptance into the program.  As they read the words “this can become the first step for the rest of your life,” the seeds of hope began sifting through their minds as they recognized they had a chance.  The letter informs them of the resources available to help them gain that chance and conveys the program staff’s hope and belief in their ability to succeed and recover. 

Hope is something they may be experiencing for the first time – hope that they can get their lives together and completely change the destructive path they have been on.  They gain hope in the program, knowing there are people willing to dedicate their time and effort to help them transition from incarceration to a better place – to a healthy, sober life.  They learn they are going to a safe place to begin their journey of recovery and change.  MentorWorks clients frequently express deep gratitude for the opportunity they have to get their lives together.

Pixabay, (accessed, February 16, 2022). Brown and Grey Hummingbird Hovering over Orange Fruit. Pexels

Heart-Wrenching Denials

Unfortunately, not all who apply are accepted.  Dr. White talks about the heart-wrenching process of having to turn some people away.  It has nothing to do with not wanting to help but rather with the program’s limited reach and capacity (2022).  MentorWorks is not equipped to serve sex offenders or serious violent offenders.  These individuals are sent a denial letter along with a list of programs and resources that may be able to assist them.

Error on the Side of Compassion

The goal of MentorWorks is to accept all who are willing to commit to working a rigorous reentry program and begin the serious journey of recovery from substance abuse.  Despite the available psychological assessment tools and the best efforts and insights of judges, public defenders, social workers, etc. there is no guarantee a person who says they want to change will follow through after release.  Although some clients have ulterior motives upon entry (e.g., use MentorWorks only as an approved address for release) others sincerely want to change.  They just don’t know how.  

MentorWorks’ approach is to take people at their word and give them the benefit of the doubt. Simply put, they error on the side of compassion.  They provide the tools necessary for successful transition and recovery, even if the individual may not be fully committed, or if they are still in “manipulation mode” when they apply.  Several clients have openly admitted they came to the program with no intention of remaining sober long-term.  Richard P finally got it and said “sobriety is a choice, man.  You use and you lose everything.  It’s all about your choice” (2022).  Once clients start working the program and begin seeing the benefits, their commitment levels often grow and they stick around long enough to figure out how to stay sober and out of jail.

Gardens & Growth

When desires are put into action, great success can follow.  As the saying goes “faith is like a little seed, when planted it will grow.”  However, challenges, doubt, and uncertainty are often part of the growth process.  But without hope, the first step will likely never be taken.  Without hope, the chances of achieving success are extremely limited.  The messages of hope are central to what occurs in any successful program and MentorWorks is no different.  Clients are constantly encouraged and supported in their efforts and desires to change.  They understand that the seeds of recovery they plant have the potential to grow into something good.  

A recent garden project was implemented at each of the MentorWorks homes.  Clients expressed a desire to plant peppers, zucchinis, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more.  They were excited about the idea of growing their own food, even though they knew it would take time and be hard work.  Some seeds did not sprout, despite the hope they would.  But many seeds have started breaking through the soil and the obvious varieties of plants have created excitement and pride in the men.  Just like a garden, there are ups and downs in recovery.  Things don’t always go as expected and planned.  And the timing of sprouts popping up and successes occurring can’t always be predicted with precision but hope is validated when they do!  

Men who come to the MentorWorks and Redwood Recovery programs may struggle to find the hope that they can change and may doubt their ability to succeed, especially when the first struggles after incarceration occur.  However, having a strong and supportive recovery community, along with a great team of counselors, group facilitators, and peer mentors can make all the difference.  Clients are never forced to stay and many move on if they are not ready to make life-changing commitments.  But those who remain experience incredible success and joy in their achievements as they sprout and grow into the men, spouses, fathers, grandfathers, sons, siblings, and uncles they have the capacity to become. 

Our Invitation

Recovery is a long term, ongoing process that starts with a single choice and continues because of hope.  It involves both small and big daily choices to remain sober and keep pushing for the light at the end of the tunnel.  Acceptance into a good treatment program can be vital to this process.  A good program can help previously incarcerated and addicted individuals become part of a viable recovery community, provide critical transitional and intensive outpatient treatment support, and set the stage for maintaining long-term sobriety and valued connections.  These resources support clients’ progress toward a healthy, sober, and joyful life.  When asked what recovery has meant to him, Michael D said “I’ve gained a hope that there’s a future out there for me, outside of my addiction and my addictive lifestyle” (2021).  Join us in this hopeful process by leaving a word of encouragement on our social media page and sharing your comments below.

See Other Blogs in our “Change a Life” Series:



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June 30, 2022

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