CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - On July 1 of this year, Horry County's Jail Diversion and Re-entry Program, also known as Life Recovery Solutions, will turn eight years old. Since it's 2009 beginning, the program has graduated hundreds of South Carolina's young men struggling with the cycle of addiction, mental health and imprisonment.
The diversion program began when founders noticed an increasing rate of repeat, young offenders with common issues. Program director and founder Gareth Beshears said he was inspired with sadness to pull the program together during a multi-million dollar J. Reuben Long Detention Center expansion project.
The program began in July of 2009 and costs about $244,800 annually to run, representatives said. The money comes from grants and the South Carolina Department of Corrections, who pay the costs of each individual they send to the program.
"The committee that I was on was interested in how can we prevent that going forward? How can we prevent spending that kind of money every so often to increase our jail size? And that's what brought about the study..actually brought about going to different models and seeing what was going on at the time...and creating a model that would work here, and actually it's been very successful," Beshears told WMBF News reporter Meredith Helline.
Beshears and his colleagues visited different prison programs in other states. But, they found their base model with the Healing Place, a diversion program present in Kentucky prison systems. He explained Horry County's program has been tweaked, but is based on four principles. Those are discipline, accountability, responsibility and structure.
Participants in the program either volunteer, or are referred to the program by the Solicitior's Office or the Public Defender's Office, a representative said.
"They have to take initiative to take what they learn and change life...there's no hand holding," Jail Diversion and Re-entry Program mentor Jonathan Myers explained.
There's anywhere from 30-40 men between the ages of 18 and 25 in the program at the minimum security prison, next to J. Reuben Long, at any given time. All of them are recovering addicts, Beshears said, and have been in and out of prison systems across the state. All of the young men were given the program, only in Horry County, as an alternative to returning to prison.
The program is an intensive intervention, eight hours a day and five days a week. Each inmate wakes up at seven in the morning for breakfast and meditation, and then spends the day in class. Mental health issues are addressed first. Beshears explained that's the underlying issue for almost every addiction. Classes center on lifestyle changes, resisting criminality, recovery therapy, and schooling and career classes.
The success rate of the program is broken down by phases. About 88 percent of inmates in the program advance past Phase I, and about 76 percent graduate from the program, meaning the successfully complete Phases I, II, and III of the program.
Myers is a recovering addict and success story of the program.
"They'd been through the same stuff I'd been through…and I couldn't manipulate them so it was a shock…but it was a good shock!" He said, explaining his first few weeks in the program eight years ago.
Myers was mentored by former addicts himself while incarcerated. He said it's easier to listen to people who've been through the same things, and witness their life improvements as inspiration to change your own. He now does that for current program inmates.
"I've been there and I've done that…I've been in their shoes. I've been through this program, I've been through some of the things they've been through in life…so I know how to deal with them," Myers explained.
One of his students is inmate and recovering addict Justin Fowler. He's been in the program since September 2016, and Beshears said is on his way to successfully completing it.
"Something I learned in here is people places and things…sometimes they need to change, and that's something I need to do. I'm going to relocate here and change my surroundings and environments," Fowler told Helline.
Originally from Spartanburg, Fowler said he first started getting in trouble when he turned 18. It began with drug distribution charges. His father isn't present in his life, and Myers said many mentors serve as that figure for their mentees.
"Like Justin…he didn't mention his father because his father wasn't there. He didn't teach him to be accountable and responsible…so he's learning it from us now...and when he gets out he'll have to learn how to do it on his own," Myers said. "This is the easy part. I don't know why they get so upset and cry about being in here…this is the easiest part of the whole process," Myers continued.
The diversion program is three phases. The first, where Justin is, is classes and recovery while incarcerated. The second, where Justin is, a transition house and learning to function as a recovering addict. The third, an accountable, responsible, functioning member of society.
Beshears said the young men have about a year to year and a half to prove they've changed. The biggest problem he faces, he said, is the entire state sending inmates to the understaffed program. Beshears explained they could double or triple the amount of young adults in the diversion program, but would need more mentors. He said the county also can't pay the bill for the entire states inmates. It can and should be replicated throughout other prison systems to give those deserving a second chance, a second chance.