I keyed up my phone navigation just in time as I had passed the correct road. It took me over two more hills before turning left and back towards the woods surrounding Blue Marsh Lake.
Snow flurries whipped past the car, the landscape white and barren. I was gradually nearing the grounds of Berks County Prison.
I found a parking spot and made my way to the lobby. A guard sat inside a secure box of bulletproof glass. I started to speak and he looked up.
“Shift change. It’ll be twenty minutes before I can help you. Have a seat.” With that, I took a spot in the empty lobby and waited.
Ten minutes later I sat in the office of Stephanie Smith, Deputy Warden of Treatment. The prison was high on my list of research locations as poverty often connected itself with crime and addiction.
Smith, her clinical specialty in addiction, has a drive to help the men and women who cross through her doors.
We spoke for more than an hour.
“They all go back,” Smith said, “I think people forget that. These people are their neighbors, the ones they see at the grocery store.”
She talked about working with prisoners on the start of the Continuum of Change, the balance of pre-contemplation and contemplation. If she can help them spark that moment of thought, it can make a huge difference.
As with each interview I’ve had working through this book, I’ve learned about poverty, faith, and the nature of the human condition.
Compassion- The prison has an extensive reentry program, working to get inmates the skills they need to not arrested again. A stigma rides on the concept of prison, one that must shift. It is the connection point and catalyst to change lives.
“Do you want them better when they return?” Smith asks. “It’s our job to get them there.”
Consideration- Her point about change is true for everyone. What’s holding you back? What would it take to actually consider it? We’re not talking building your schedule in the midst of the change, we’re looking at the start. Just seeing your plans and dreams is the first step on the move towards success.
Freedom- “I love it when I realize that I haven’t seen a certain person for months, or even years. It means they made it out,” Smith said. One of the most prevalent misunderstandings with our lives of faith is that they will be easy, that we will not struggle too much.
Grace frees us from the eternal consequences of our actions. Does that mean the addictions will stop?
Not for everyone. Not without help.
If you are under the weight of something tonight, think about your life without it. Addictions can be broken. Find the root, recognize it, and do what you can to make a change.
Some of us will keep going back to the prison of our own creation. Only one person has the key.
It waits on the cross for those searching for a way home.