Editorial: Finding support for a productive life after jail

  • George Ballentine, left, and Larry Thomas, right, lead support groups for current and former inmates. STAFF PHOTO/ANDY CASTILLO

Published: 9/12/2019 9:40:35 AM

Often the best teachers are those who have gone through a similar experience because they understand the challenges better than those who haven’t.

We believe that is the case for the support groups being offered to those who are incarcerated or recently released from the Franklin County House of Correction. The group’s leaders are former inmates.

Larry Thomas had been in and out of jail for 18 years, falling back into the old pattern, he said, of “drugs and gangs” before taking a different path four years ago.

What made the difference? Finding housing and peer support from The RECOVER Project.

Now, Thomas runs a support group, overseen by the Western Mass. Recovery Learning Community, for those nearing their release from the county jail.

George Ballentine, another former inmate, runs a similar support group for those who have been released as well as inmates who are transported from the jail to the Recovery Learning Community’s center on Chapman Street.

These meetings are times for group members to share how they’re doing, and to learn about what resources, such as housing and jobs, are available on the outside.

“I try to redirect, because talking about the stuff that got them in jail is going to keep them in jail,” Thomas said.

Besides the support groups, Thomas and Ballentine are available for one-on-one meet-ups.

The Recovery Learning Community started a similar group at the jail for women. The plan is to have a former inmate to lead that group as well.

The Recovery Learning Community has run similar support groups, but using former inmates is a new approach.

A three-year $150,000 grant, part of a larger federal grant the jail received, will fund the support groups. If getting such support helps people have productive lives after they leave jail — and stay out of jail — we say it’s money well spent.

And while we are on the topic of the Franklin County House of Correction, we want to commend its leadership for securing a federal license to administer methadone in-house to inmates.

The license now gives the jail authority to provide three drugs to combat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine and naltrexone are the two others.

Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan notes that nearly half of those who enter the jail have an opioid disorder.

Plus, those who used methadone can continue their treatment while incarcerated. They are given a liquid form of the drug.

Dr. Ruth Potee, the jail’s medical director, says patients cannot become addicted to methadone, only dependent on it. She said securing the license was “one of the hardest projects” she’s undertaken, so getting approval was a big accomplishment.

As Donelan said, “methadone is just one of the many tools at our disposal.”


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