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Hope for long-term drug recovery home in Aiken County nearing reality

Those who have long awaited a place to send their loved ones battling drug addiction may soon get some reprieve.

Recovery Road Ministries, a local nonprofit aimed to provide outreach in a faith-based recovery home for both men and women, are hoping to help heal members of its community and break apart Aiken County's growing jail recidivism rate.

The organization is beyond its infancy stage, but is currently working to secure a home first for men, then for women.

The seven-member board, which includes Millbrook Baptist Pastor Gary Farina, singer Beth Spangler and Capt. Nick Gallam, the administrator of the Aiken County detention center, hope to fundraise $250,000 by June 1.

Farina, the executive director of Recovery Road Ministries, started the nonprofit after providing faith-based help to people in and out of the jail system.

Gallam is the president of the board and has 15 years of experience at the jail, where he's seen the issue firsthand day to day.

"I would say, probably 60 to 70 percent of our jail population is somehow affected by, you know, drugs," Gallam said. "They might be here on a burglary charge, but most of the time it's so they can turn around and sell dope."

He says national incarceration rates show the role drug activity plays in recidivism, meaning convicted persons who repeatedly offend.

The recidivism rate, Gallam said, is a hard statistic to come up with, especially on the local level. But he says likely more than 50 percent inmates are returning to jail. 

"If you look at a lot of these drug offenders, they have an addiction that they can't get over and where do they end up typically? In the county jail," Gallam said.

Drug epidemic in Aiken County

Over the years, Gallam has seen inmates come in younger and younger, and within the past 10 years, methamphetamine has become the popular drug of choice.

"I have one pod in this jail, probably 75 percent of the people in that pod ... were in there for meth," he said. "Actual meth charges. Not burglary, meth charges."

A lead narcotics investigator with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office told the Aiken Standard the use of narcotics is controlled and illegal, and the office typically sees methamphetamine driving external property crime, burglaries, car break-ins and theft.

The statement sent through Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Eric Abdullah, also said cocaine and marijuana have been the motivation for many recent home invasions, or criminals targeting other criminals, in the CSRA, and opioids such as heroin and other controlled medication that is also commonly abused, is seen to drive internal family theft and disorder.

The Sheriff's Office noted it's important to remember that tobacco and alcohol kill more people in this country every year than all the above combined, FDA and FBI statistics in recent years report.

County narcotics officers say meth is abused in Aiken County, and the area began to see meth production, consumption and distribution pick up in the area between 2006 and 2008.

In the county, the Sheriff's Office takes a role in community policing, Gallam said, adding, "We try to get into these communities and help."

To combat addiction, the Sheriff's Office also believes in early intervention - elementary school to even earlier - as well as a "strong model" to children to follow, such as in the home, school, church and a community group. 

"It is unfortunately common for young people in this day and age to be exposed to things ... that will negatively shape their perception of what is right/excepted," the Sheriff's Office said.

Gallam said it's probably the goal of every jail administrator to try to decrease recidivism rates adding, it would be "very beneficial" for the jail, if even just one or two people a year had "a life change."

It is the type of change he believes Recovery Road would provide.

"It's not a program that were going to send someone to to dry out. It's a life change. That's what they have to have is a life change to beat the addiction," Gallam said. "We send them to prison and they get out, go out to the same knucklehead friends and the same dope houses, they are going to end up right back here."

Recovery Road Ministries

Pastor Gary Farina started his faith-based work years ago, when he got involved in a similar long-term faith-based facility in the Columbia area.

Then, a family member would contact Farina, he would show up at the person's trial and advocate to move them into the recovery home, rather than a jail. If the person didn't complete the recovery program, he or she would be picked up by probation, Farina said.

At the Recovery Road Ministries home, Farina said the 12-step program will offer counselors, but it's not a rehabilitation center. They won't distribute medication, or deal with a lot of mental issues and will refer people to doctors or specialists if they have mental health issues. All ages will be welcome, but every person will have to go through a screening process.

Sex offenders will not be allowed in the home.

Spangler added that's why a screening and initial meeting will be important so they get a grasp what are all of the mitigating factors in that person's life.

Because the organization is faith-based, while they are in the program for 10 months, organizers say they will go to church. Farina, however, said no one will be forced to accept any beliefs.

"Whether they believe or not - that's up to them. But they will go to church Sundays and Wednesdays and mentored by men and women," he said. "We're faith based. They don't have to come to my faith-based recovery home. That's up to them."

Spangler added she feels like no matter whether people believe what they hear when they go to church or the Bible studies that are part of the curriculum, there's significance in the fellowship, sense of community, support and love.

"… I think a lot of these folks coming out of these facilities don't feel supported," she said. "I just don't know that someone who is in such a need would shun the whole idea of being a part of this process of healing just because it's faith based. They may. But like Pastor Gary said, they can choose whether to continue those practices or beliefs."

'Addiction doesn't care about your social standing'

Perhaps an unexpected member of the Recovery Road Ministries board is Spangler, who was connected with Farina through mutual friend who has "struggled with addiction."

Despite her appearance on "The Voice," her experience is not unlike most people. She and Farina agreed every person knows at least one person who has dealt with or has been affected by addiction.

"Addiction doesn't care about your social standing. You could be poor or you could be rich," Farina said.

Spangler said she also sees this as a way of helping to support a community that has been so supportive of her. Farina added she also "has the heart for this."

"I think there's a stigma attached to addiction and substance abuse," Spangler said. "And with people who don't know much about it or haven't been affected, they don't understand why this home is so important."

For Gallam, too, the stories of addiction are personal, as members of his own family have dealt with issues connected to drug and alcohol addiction, which led many to have bouts of incarceration.

"There's not a family out there that doesn't have someone with an addiction problem," he said. "We deal with people everyday in their worst state, the worst day of their life probably when they come to jail. It's heartbreaking. It's hard. I've been doing it for 15 years, and it's hard not to get jaded and put up a wall and be thick-skinned. But you have to have compassion for people."

When Gallam walks the halls of the jail, he reflects on his own family.

"I have a 13-year-old daughter. She's getting ready to be (impacted) by peer pressure, maybe she already is. What if she did get addicted to drugs? I would want her to get help," he said.

Though support has already been overwhelming for the long-term recovery home, all three - Gallam, Spangler and Farina - know there could be some push back to having a recovery home in neighborhoods throughout Aiken County.

But, all say, would someone rather have an addict on the street, or getting recovery?

"It's going to be very strict inside that home," Farina said. "... They are recovering. They are not using. They have already detoxed. There will be periodical drug tests. But for the first three months it will be very strict. They are not going to be able to just leave the house and do something."

Spangler asked, "What if this were you? What if you or your son or someone in your family needed help? Are you going to turn your back on them?"

The nonprofit is currently looking for monthly, yearly support, that can include donations from corporations, faith-based churches/organizations or other nonprofits.

Donations can be made online at www.recoveryroadministries.org or by mail at Recovery Road Ministries, Inc., P.O. Box 5604, Aiken, S.C. 29804.

For additional details about Recovery Road Ministries, email recovery.rd.ministries@gmail.com or call 803-646-1253.

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