In Front of the Table
By Jesse Duthrie
Like many of nonprofit organizations RELEASE has covered in the past six months, the Bridgeport Recovery Community Center starts at a table. Tables are a place of varying emotions. Some people sit quietly, and look into their palms as they retrace the steps that led them in a path of self-destruction. Others raise their voices, pound their fists, and let their frustration and anger get the best of them. No matter what the cause that may have gotten a person to seek help- addiction, finding employment, searching for housing- the table is the start to finding a better future.
Four long tables are angled together to form one large rectangle. Chairs are plentiful, and by 12 p.m. on 49 Cannon Street, are mostly occupied. The thirty or so participants of the addiction recovery-counseling meeting are uniformly quiet, and a single voice is allowed its turn to speak.
“Fuck this,” a middle-aged man says. “Fuck ya’ll. I love you guys, and you’re great. But for today, I need to focus on myself. I’m having a hard time getting through this, so sorry, but fuck your problems. I got mine.”
He finishes, and nobody is taken aback. When it’s somebody’s turn to speak, they’re free to speak their mind and their heart.
Michael Askew is the program director of Bridgeport Recovery Community Center. Michael understands the issues that men and women face in their challenges against addiction.
One of those issues is dealing with a history of incarceration while battling addiction. It’s no surprise that over twenty-five percent of convictions in the United States are drug related, and this statistic doesn’t count those convictions such as robbery and manslaughter that are fueled by drug use.
The group meeting sessions, which are held between noon and one p.m. everyday, attract a variety of people: young and old, white and black, male and female, clean and washed up. Throughout the meetings there is a reoccurring topic of dealing with prison and release from incarceration.
One young man, no older than 25, attended that meeting on that frigid Thursday afternoon. Addicted to drugs, though he didn’t specify his addiction, he did tell the group that two nights prior he had been arrested with possession and faced breaking his parole and being placed back into prison. Fortunately he was given another chance, and sitting at the corner of the table, shoulders slumped and head down, he was thankful for having another chance at life outside of bars.
Kathy, an African-American woman in her early twenties, was released from prison in November of 2010. She’s been a part of the BRCC for several weeks. She says, “The program allows me to reach out and meet new people. It also allows me to network.”
Kathy had tried NA before coming to the Bridgeport Recovery Community Center, but she finds more comfort in the latter program. She knows more people, the volunteers staff are helpful, and she’s been able to look for jobs.
“The program works if you work it.”
On top of participating in the recovery program, Kathy volunteers at the Center. The majority of staff is volunteers, many recovering addicts themselves. Recovery coaches trained in a one-week academy. They are then allowed to volunteer on wide array of positions at the BRCC; these jobs range from signing people in at the front door to leading discussion during the recovery support meetings. The longer a person has been volunteering, the more involved their job typically becomes.
Michael Askew explains how people become involved in the BRCC. “People going through prison can use addiction counseling services that help them integrate back into society. When they are connected with their probation or parole officers, they are informed of our program. Also, there are community meetings called Re-entry councils. A lot of the providers in the area come to help in the support from transitioning back in the community.”
Bridgeport Community Center moves beyond counseling meetings. They provide services for people who need help with other issues facing their returns from incarceration. They work on pardon processing, finding housing, and finding employment; these are all major issues ex-offenders face upon return.
“This is more than just raising spirits,” Michael says, “People come in here and look at our bulletin boards and they’ll come in and say ‘I need something. Can you show me how to get it?’ We provide the computers to create e-mail accounts. We connect people to STRIDE or Career Resources. Then they’ll come back here for additional support.”
No matter if a person wants to take full advantage of BRCC’s many services or just come in for a recovery discussion, the only requirement is that they sign in.
“Some people just need a safe place to sit down and have a cup of coffee. We’re here to encourage them, and we’ll try to find out what’s going on with them. Some people aren’t motivated. Every now and then, we try to see where they’re going.”
Outside of incarceration, a prison mindset tends to last in ex-offenders so breaking down that wall and allowing for a person to feel safe can be difficult. From the GED programs at the Greater Council of Churches to the Job Training at Career Resources, program leaders have described the challenge for ex-offenders to feel safe in the real world after a long sentence and a difficult background. And like those programs, BRCC keeps its doors open and judgment free. The more a person can trust the program, the more they can find change in their own lives.
After a young man describes his addiction and the possibility of being arrested for drug use, the discussion leader tells the group a story.
“A dog sits on a nail and beings to howl. Two men watch from afar and notice that the dog remains seated, and continues to howl. The first man says to the other, ‘When is that dog going to move?’
The second man says, ‘He’ll move when it hurts enough.’”