Virginia Inmates Detail Success of Jail Recovery Program On Facebook Live, Go Viral

By Victoria Kim 01/05/17

In the viral testimonial, the inmates speak passionately about the jail's life-changing Heroin Addiction Recovery Program. 

Shatima Smith
Shatima Smith Photo via Facebook

The women of Chesterfield County Jail in Virginia have gone viral with their message to the incoming Trump administration: invest in addiction recovery.

The women spoke one by one via Facebook Live video on Dec. 30, with the help of recovery advocate Ryan Hampton of Facing Addiction. They are all part of the Chesterfield County Jail Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP). The program is a collaboration between the county sheriff’s office and the McShin Foundation, Virginia’s leading peer-to-peer recovery organization.

By engaging in peer recovery, the inmates say that through HARP, they found the guidance that they’ve been missing while cycling in and out of jails and treatment for years.

“It’s peer-to-peer in here, we love each other, we treat each other like a family,” said Patsy Garnett, a mother of two and the first female participant in the program. 

“This program works,” said another inmate, Shatima Smith, who said she felt lost before she found HARP. Smith was raised by her grandmother, as both her parents had substance use issues. She said she often felt angry and lonely as a child. She dropped out of high school and went to prison for the first time at age 24. Each time she was locked up, she would ask the judge for help, she said. But she was ultimately left with no resources or support.

The cycle continued until HARP. “I always wondered what was wrong with me, why I just couldn’t stop,” said Smith. Now with the tools that HARP has given her, and her network of peers, Smith said “there’s really nothing that I won’t do to get my recovery and get my life back.”

According to the Chesterfield Observer, last year heroin overdoses increased by nearly 80% in Chesterfield County. The HARP program involves families in the recovery process as well, educating them about the nature of addiction and offering support.

Another inmate, Whitney, said being part of a network of people who want to stay sober was integral to her recovery. “A stigma only grows in the dark,” she said. “I want to bring to light that we are humans.” After 14 years of living with addiction and labeled as a felon, Whitney has been able to watch herself and fellow inmates “grow and learn about themselves” through the HARP program.

Like Whitney, Ridgley Morman also grew up in a “normal” middle-class upbringing, with supportive parents to boot. She was a probation officer for eight years before she got hooked on painkillers that she was prescribed for a medical issue. “I was a productive member of society, but like the other 21 million people suffering, this disease did not discriminate against me,” said Morman. “I’m just one of the many faces of addiction.”

Last year Ryan Hampton facilitated the first Facebook Live feed to be recorded from inside a jail, with male inmates at Chesterfield County.

The viral messages are bringing attention to the success of programs like HARP. “It’s important that we create more programs like this and that we have them available to people who suffer addiction,” David Rook, operations manager at McShin, told ABC 8. “We can reduce recidivism rates. We can rebuild families, our communities will become stronger.”

Supporting programs like these can “change the course of recovery in America,” said McShin president and founder, John Shinholser, who has almost 35 years of sobriety. 

“It took this program to help me find myself and I can actually look in the mirror today and say that I love myself and I like who I’m becoming,” said Garnett. HARP is “world changing, life changing, and most importantly it’s changed me.”

You can view the full video here.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr