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"Back to Basics" Behind Bars

Richmond, VA Newspaper Article

On May 20,2002, the Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA) ran a very complimentary article on the Back to Basics program at the Henrico County Jail.  The piece is titled, "Rehab thrives behind bars--Drug program borrows from AA."  John M., a Back to Basics pioneer in the Richmond, VA area is responsible for the implementation of the program in this institutional environment.

County Sheriff Mike Wade is one of the champions of the Back to Basics program.  What follows are some of his comments on the implementation of this "original" AA format in a prison environment.

Frustrated with what he saw (inmates spending most of their time watching TV), Wade went to his staff at the (Henrico) Jail East facility in New Kent with the idea of turning certain jail blocks, called pods, into total immersion substance abuse rehabilitation programs.

"Call it a therapeutic community," he said.  Wade also calls it Back to Basics, as does Alcoholics Anonymous, from which he has borrowed much of his program's structure.

That structure goes back to the beginnings of the AA movement and its 12-step, peer support concept.

The jail now has three men's pods using Back to Basics, with a similar program planned for a women's pod.

Initially, Wade met heavy resistance from his staff.  Faced with buzzwords and mumbo jumbo, "the security staff was totally against it," he said.  But he and the 70 to 100 men who are enrolled (in Back to Basics) at any one time are life-or-death serious about what this program means to them.

Few prisoners consider their incarceration a stroke of good fortune, but since Back to Basics was introduced, grateful has become a legitimate description for many in the three pods being used in the pilot phase of the sheriff's plan.

"A lower recidivism rate is characteristic of inmates enrolled in the program," Wade said.

Overall, the jail holds 400 inmates.  Up to a quarter of them are in the Back to Basics pods. 

John (M.) has been sober for nearly 20 years.  He volunteers at the jail and helps facilitate many area AA programs.  He has been involved in Wade's "therapeutic community" since December.

"It's a crash course taking people through the steps of AA so they find recovery from a spiritual rather than a psychological basis," John said.  "It's one of those things where they pick up on it or they bail out.  "And very few bail out."

John called the program unique.  "I think what really is interesting is the fact that this is the first systematic approach to apply the principles of AA in a setting like this," he said.

John has been actively involved in Back to Basics since the book was first published in 1997.  He is one of the many who are using this "original" AA meeting format to "Change the World--One Life at a Time."  


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