Inmate program gives offenders chances to succeed
Participants tout successes as three-year endeavor comes to an end
Regina Womack’s last stint at the Montezuma County Jail last year was the best thing that could have ever happened to her.
Womack, 42, a methamphetamine addict for 27 years, ended up back in jail after District Judge Douglas Walker became tired of the numerous chances she had been given and ruled she had violated her probation.
Womack had been in and out of jail 17 times during the past six years, but when Walker placed her back into the county jail the former Dolores resident faced three years in the Montezuma County detention center and another year of jail time awaited her in Utah.
Womack admitted she was angry at first for being sent back to jail, but after about a month at the detention center she met with Chris Cable, and her life began to change.
Cable, who works at the sheriff’s office as a detention officer, gets inmates help so they will have a much better chance to be successful when released.
Still addicted to meth at the time, Cable provided Womack two treatment workbook packets that dealt with substance abuse as well as to help her prepare her for a General Educational Development diploma.
Cable met with Womack every other day as she fought her addiction while studying for her GED diploma, which she has since completed.
Cable told her about the Stout Street facility in Commerce, Colo., where she is finishing up her last six months of treatment while working as an assistant to the chief executive officer of the treatment facility.
Womack has completed anger management, inner child, relapse intervention and other classes.
She now considers the time she spent in jail to be a blessing is disguise because she would have never taken the steps needed to be successful on her own.
“I was way out of control,” she said while talking about her past addiction and her actions resulting from meth use.
Womack is one of the shining examples of what Cable has been doing to help inmates for more than two years.
Cable, who served in the Navy for more than 20 years, said when the opportunity to lead this program came up he told the former Montezuma County sheriff he was interested and mentioned his three years working with the Piñon Project as well as his 18 months as a detention officer that prepared him.
Cable was chosen to lead the program in which eight people applied.
Calling the program a screening tool for people needing help with substance abuse, mental health issues and what the court ordered, Cable sets up goals for the inmates.
One example he pointed to are the contact numbers and addresses a DUI inmate would need in order to fulfill court requirements when released from jail.
“I try to give them resources to be successful,” he said. “I try to help them with employment.”
Perhaps the biggest opportunity Cable provides to inmates is the chance to pursue their GEDs free of charge through the Unlimited Learning Center.
Cable estimated that 30 percent of the inmates have not earned a high school diploma or a GED.
One success story Cable fondly remembers is an inmate earning his GED after initial tests revealed he was on a first-grade education level.
As of July 10, 13 inmates were currently working toward their GEDs, while another 42 were pursing their GEDS when released from jail. Cable said there is little way to know if these former inmates continued their education after being released.
Besides education, Cable works with inmates on employment opportunities, housing, mercy assistance, health insurance and possibly clothing.
He mentioned a farmer in the community with trailers on his property where former inmates — after a screening process — can live.
Cable also came up with treatment workbooks for inmates dealing with a variety of issues, including two books on domestic violence, two books on post traumatic stress, two on meth usage and the largest two — at 176 pages each — on substance abuse.
The books are funded by a few local banks, so there is no cost to the county or the sheriff’s office, he said.
Though Cable stressed he is not a licensed counselor, he said he is able to find the inmates’ weaknesses where they can work with other inmates when he is unavailable.
Cable said the goal is to prevent recidivism by providing inmates with some tools they can use when released from jail.
“This gives then something to do instead of walking around or watching TV,” he said.
Another advantage for an inmate who is not being held on a felony charge is the chance to have a sentence reduced or lessened by taking advantage of what the program has to offer — with a caveat.
Cable said Montezuma County Judge Jennilynn Lawrence and assistant district attorney Andrew Hughes want inmates to tell them how they are going to use what they learned and how it will be applied.
He said the thinking behind this is to ensure the inmate is genuine and not just trying to receive a lesser sentence with no intention of wanting to improve.
Cable works with Na Nihzhoozhi Center Inc (NCI), a Native American treatment facility in Gallup, N.M., to convince it to take inmates with substance abuse problems free of charge where the courts will give inmates credit for time served.
However, this treatment facility focuses its teachings on its culture in their language, so it probably would not be a good fit for an inmate not in or brought up in that same culture.
Cable said the judge still needs to sign off on letting the inmate seek treatment in lieu of jail time.
But the program Cable leads, now in its third year, will not be coming back next year.
The state funded the program for two years, while the sheriff’s office picked up the tab in year three.
Sheriff Dennis Spruell said it all comes down to funding, and added he could not support giving funding to a program that may not work. The program’s funding would come entirely from the sheriff’s office from this point on, and Spruell said that it won’t be back after this year.
Spruell said he would need to see results from a time frame of six to seven years to determine if this program is actually helping to lower repeat offender numbers.
The sheriff said there is not enough information right now to determine the program’s success.
He said what the program has accomplished so far is to give the inmates something to do while incarcerated and to assist those trying to obtain their GEDs in an attempt to try to be successful once released, is a positive.
Womack, however, does not know where she would be if not for the program, mentioning the program changed her life.
“Anything is possible now. I am a better person for sure,” she said, and credited Cable for being compassionate and giving people chances.
Reach Michael Maresh at firstname.lastname@example.org