- read »San Francisco Chronicle ("Offenders on drugs get break" 9/16/99)
Offenders On Drugs Get Break - Addictions overcome, skills gained at Bridges
By Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 1999 ©2000 San Francisco Chronicle
For years, cocaine and marijuana controlled Redd Game's life. Like many addicts, he sought a high 24 hours a day and often committed thefts to support his habit. His actions landed him in jail about a dozen times, with his last arrest in April.
But after his sentencing this summer, the 34-year-old East Palo Alto man was given a choice: jail time or a minimum of 90 days in Bridges, a new county-sponsored program for repeat offenders who are addicts or alcoholics. For once, Game decided to try a different route.
The brainchild of the San Mateo County Superior Court, the Probation Department and the Sheriff's Office, Bridges offers drug and alcohol abusers an opportunity to stop the cycle that keeps them coming back to jail. The program opened its doors in Redwood City in early August and was formally introduced by county officials yesterday. "It's already saved my life,'' said Game, who is in the process of enrolling in trucking school. "It has taught me how to manage my life. Before, drugs were managing my life."
So far, 22 people -- five women and 17 men -- have attended the day treatment program, which San Mateo County officials call the first of its kind in California.
Bridges participants meet in a room next door to the Women's Jail in Redwood City, and from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. discuss personal issues and learn basic skills such as reading, math and computer use. A local drug and alcohol treatment program, Pyramid Alternatives, assists program members with alcohol and drug treatment free of charge. County officials call it the next step after the county's Drug Court, a program that requires first-time offenders to seek drug and alcohol treatment from county-approved programs.
The program targets inmates who are in jail for nonviolent offenses related to drug and alcohol abuse, with some prospective participants identified during special pretrial hearings. Others are chosen after they fail the county's Drug Court program or violate probation.
To stay in the program, Bridges members must make their regular court appearances, comply with a curfew, submit to searches without warning and abstain from alcohol and drugs. The group is randomly tested for drugs and alcohol two to three times each week and individuals are required to meet with a judge for periodic reviews.
Most Bridges participants start out on house arrest or electronic monitoring when they go home in the evening. As time goes on, the rules are relaxed, depending on the person's progress. The men and women can stay in the program as long as they need to, but county officials said no one should remain in Bridges for more than a year.
If participants violate any of the rules, they can be sent back behind bars to serve their jail sentence. No one has tested positive for drugs or alcohol since the program began August 9, officials said yesterday.
Game said everyone in the group looks out for one another to make sure they stay on the right track.
"I could have just done the same thing," he said. "But jail was a reality check. I couldn't go into my 35th year knowing that I had a child who knew her dad was a dope addict."
- read »The Docket (San Mateo County Bar Association) ("Letter from the PJ" 12/99)
- San Mateo County Times ("County offers aid to addicts" 9/16/99)
- read »Half Moon Bay Review ("Building bridges: out of crime, into a second chance" 10/6/99)
By DEIRDRE PETTIT / Half Moon Bay Review / October 8, 1999 - Addictions overcome, skills gained at Bridges
By Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
LaTanya Wilson isn't sure where she is going but she knows she doesn't want to go back.
With the help of the new San Mateo County Bridges Program, she may not have to.
Bridges, the first program of its kind in the state, aims to help non-violent criminals break the cycle of recidivism through a nine-month intensive counseling, education and job training program.
The program places inmates under house arrest so they can live at home while attending all-day classes five days a week.
The classes and intensive group counseling give them the skills and the emotional support they need to stay out of jail, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and land a steady job.
The program is the product of a combined effort by the San Mateo Superior Court, the Probation Department, and the Sheriff's Office to keep repeat offenders out of jail.
"We looked at the jail statistics, who was getting incarcerated with great frequency, and what we could do to change their lives," said one of its founders, San Mateo Superior Court Judge George Miram.
"Drug addicts get caught in a continuous cycle of offend and reoffend. Most of them are thieves, drug addicts, and don't have the fundamental life skills to keep a routine these days."
Because the program is so new, funding was hard to come by.
"We put this program together out of nothing," Miram said, adding that they relied on donations and what little county and state funding they could scrape up.
Participants in the program are chosen from county jail inmates who statistically would have a hard time breaking the cycle on their own.
"We are gearing the program toward people who are at a very low level of functioning," he said.
For example those jailed for drug possession come from many different social and economic backgrounds, but Miram said people chosen to participate in the program don't have resources such as an education, basic job skills or a stable employment history to help pull them out of a downward spiral.
At age 27, Wilson has been in and out of jail three times once for drug possession and twice for theft.
She has two daughters, and lost her 44-year-old blind mother whom they all depended on to a stroke last May. Diabetes caused her mother to go blind when Wilson was 2 years old, she said.
Her mother had been a keypunch operator before she lost her sight, and then relied on meager disability checks to support herself, her daughter and son while living in a San Francisco apartment.
Wilson's father moved to Washington D.C. from San Francisco when she was 9 years old and they haven't been close since, she said.
After Wilson had her two daughters, they all lived off her mother's disability income.
Wilson said she rarely worked and shoplifted clothes and sold them to "keep a few dollars in my pocket."
She also partied a lot, which led to drugs and the possession arrest that landed her in jail last November.
But this all changed when her mother died.
Without her mother to help raise her children, Wilson had to send her youngest daughter to live with her natural father and his wife in another area of San Francisco and her oldest daughter to Memphis to live with relatives while she served time in jail.
When she was approached by her probation officer about the Bridges program in August, she thought it might give her a way to get her daughters back and provide for them.
"I don't have any desire to do drugs. I just got tired and realized I had to be there for my kids. I don't like having to (depend on others) Ocause I'm no one's obligation," she said.
Although she said the program intimidated her at first, house arrest gave her an opportunity to live with her youngest daughter.
She also saw an opportunity to change her life.
"I chose to do the program because I wanted to go home," Wilson said. "I didn't know what the program would consist of, but I knew about the (General Equivalency Diploma) classes."
She thought that if she could get her high school diploma she would have an easier time finding a job.
"It's kind of like, if I was incarcerated or on the streets, I wouldn't have decided to go back to school," she said. "I wouldn't have even thought about it. I thought, I'm going to take advantage, it's free."
Although the program is free, it doesn't provide the participants with groceries, bus passes, or a stipend.
And because it's a 9 to 5 job, it leaves little time for employment
The biggest challenge Wilson faces every day is finding the money to pay the train fare from San Francisco to Redwood City, where the program is located.
Only a bag lunch is provided by the program, she said.
But since the program is in it's trial phase, the county hasn't been able to find additional financial support for participants, although they are looking for grants for next year.
Participants can't let their personal financial problems get in their way of getting to class, though.
If the participants drop out of the program for any reason, they will have to start serving their original jail sentence from day one.
"Jail is their alternative," Miram said. "They waive their credits, so if they fail the program they go back to the beginning. They have some stake in the program from the outset, and I think that's an important element of the program."
And the combination of personal motivation and threat of serving a full jail term seems to be working despite the financial difficulties participants face.
"We expected to have a lot of people drop out by now, because a lot of people would be out there re-offending. Not one person has dropped out yet," he said.
In the meantime, participants like Wilson said they just have to do what they can to scrape by.
Wilson and her youngest daughter are staying with a friend and relying on them to provide them with food, while her oldest daughter stays in Memphis.
She applied for welfare for the first time in her life last week in hopes that she can get a little extra help for the duration of the program.
Although Wilson said it's hard to have to depend on someone else and be separated from her oldest daughter, she said she needs to sacrifice now in order to have a better life in the future.
"I look at this as my last chance," she said. "I don't want my future to be like that. I want to be able to support my family and work, because I think I deserve better than that."
- The Independent (Foster City Progress) ("county starts rehabilitation program" 9/25/99)