Forty inmates at the jail in Wailua joined a recovery group that follows the format of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Residential and Drug Abuse Treatment Program. Seven years ago Tali McCall wrote and designed the program for The Salvation Army, with assistance from the Dept. of Public Safety.
In McCall’s Level II “Freedom to Change” group, an inmate wrote the following summary to describe what she considers a character flaw that is intricately linked to her criminal behavior.
“I am struggling with my emotions so I run a lot … I am broken at times and don’t trust myself. I don’t follow social rules, can’t accept criticism and need help in learning how to live a normal life — whatever that is.”
Tali McCall is the facilitator for Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center’s substance abuse program “Freedom to Change” — a program founded on a human relations model for the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse.
“We don’t treat the substance, we treat the individual,” McCall said. “It’s about relationships in terms of their environment.”
When McCall first introduced this concept to inmates they asked if they could name the class “Freedom to Change.” Since that inaugural day in a small classroom equipped with all the predictable accouterments — tables, chairs, a drawing board — the inmates have been involved in co-creating the class. McCall considers the program entirely collaborative — from social workers referring inmates to inmates suggesting avenues for self-analysis.
The 80-hour program can take up to a year to complete and includes three sections: Level II Treatment, Cognitive Skills Group and Anger Management Group. Recently, a fourth formed for graduates of the program who still have time to serve — an after-care support group that meets weekly.
One question McCall puts to her program participants is, “What keeps you coming back to jail.”
“This is a program that deals with all aspects of socialization — individual issues and family issues,” she said. “It’s not easy, but that’s why it works so well.”
The “Freedom to Change” program is separate from the jail. KCCC (referred to as K triple C) has education specialists, social workers and a librarian working together to refer inmates to the program.
“Where level I treatment is education, level II is more process, interaction, structural and educational,” McCall said. “We include family therapy and community education too.”
McCall believes there has to be an intervention for inmates while they are serving time. Otherwise when released it’s easy to return to the life they had before.
“They’re going to turn to something that will give them respite,” she said.
When Meiling Hauanio of Lihu‘e was first sentenced to a year at KCCC she wanted no part of treatment. It wasn’t until her second incarceration that she joined the voluntary program.
“I didn’t want to admit my drug abuse,” she said. “This time I was in longer — two and a half years — I was still using when I came.”
“Cold turkey” is how Hauanio described getting clean.
“I didn’t want to work with (Tali). I was comfortable with what the parole board gave me,” Hauanio said. “Tali told me if you’re not going to deal with your issues here, you’re going to go out there and be the same.”
That was all it took. McCall’s no-holds-barred approach caught Hauanio’s attention.
“I laid it out for her straight: I started ice at 12 years old. I did it till I was 21,” Hauanio said. “I couldn’t run no more. I wanted something different.”
Hauanio said attending the three classes weekly gave her stability.
“At first you deal with your character defects — your addiction and how it caught up with you,” she said.
In class one day, after some discussion on how character defects cause relapse into a criminal lifestyle, five women in the group came up with a strategy for delving deeper into their shadow selves. They decided to role-play a performance in which each woman personified their worst trait. By exploring the complexity of self-defeating characteristics like victimization, violence, self-pity and running away, the women dug even deeper into a dark past. Hauanio described one insightful exercise.
“My baggage is violence. I want to hit first, talk later,” she said. “I wrote it down on paper. I wrote ‘violence’ (on the top of the page) and started to brainstorm.”
Hauanio said she had little recollection of her past until she put pen to paper.
“As I wrote it down I remembered things. It took me to be sober to jot down memories,” she said. “It made me realize I was a really bad person.”
The women titled their play “Baggage Claim.” Each one wrote an essay on “The Person I Am Right Now” in order to help them identify the core issue causing them strife. One summary read:
“I am in jail, self-centered and sneaky. Being helpless gave me the okay to feel sorry for myself. “Poor me, I am the victim.” I have difficulty seeing what is real. I believe I don’t have problems like you do. I am different. I make the things that hurt me small in my life so I don’t have to look at them.”
What began as an experiential way to dissect character flaws became an exercise in empowerment when the women stood up before an audience at a luncheon to perform “Baggage Claim.”
“Acknowledging the past and understanding how you got to the present,” McCall said. “That’s what gives you the ability to change.”
McCall pushes her clients toward accountability.
“I let these guys and gals reach in for their own answers: Reenact it and change,” she said. “Fear. That is mostly what we deal with here.”
Hauanio said she was one of McCall’s worst inmates.
“Her teaching is really hard core — she didn’t beat around the bush,” Hauanio said. “It’s your choice if you want to walk out of her class — you can walk out, get kicked out or sit there and take it because somebody cares.”
Hauanio completed her 80 hours of treatment and when released joined a “Continuum of Care Group” for inmates on extended furlough from the jail.
“Change is hard, but you work hard — you gotta change for yourself,” she said. “I’ve been out two weeks. I am finding here I have more freedom — old acquaintances. I’m getting that feeling of, wow, was I that person? But in the meantime, they don’t see who I’ve become. They don’t know what’s the spirit inside.”
To make a well-rounded program, McCall said there has to be a heart-to-head connection.
“When you invite someone to participate in their recovery, they do connect heart to head,” she said. “That willingness had to come from within — what is the spirit that lives inside of them — what is that breath of life?”