Prime For Life equips RCDC inmates with tools to battle alcohol, drug abuse

TIGER — Rabun County Sheriff Chad Nichols estimates 80 to 85 percent of the county’s jail population struggle with drug addiction.

Often those who are in jail for drug-related crimes will be back again for similar reasons. Many multiple times.

Nichols recognized the specific need to implement a program in the Rabun County Detention Center (RDDC) that could be offered to inmates who wish to change their addictive tendencies.

Prime For Life is a 20-hour self-motivated evidence-based course taught by Howard Dowdle. The treatment program allows inmates to learn about high-risk situations while facing addiction and how to avoid certain lifestyle habits that could hinder their sobriety.

Based on the Lifestyle Risk Reduction Model, the Transtheoretical Model, and persuasion theory, Prime For Life emphasizes changing participants’ perceptions of the risks of drug and alcohol use and related attitudes and beliefs.

Dowdle said risk perception is altered through the carefully timed presentation of both logical reasoning and emotional experience. He uses empathy and collaboration (methods consistent with motivational interviewing) to increase the participants’ motivation to change behavior to protect what they value most in life.

Dowdle emphasized that the main difference between Prime for Life and other substance-abuse treatment programs which are often conducted through long stints of time is that the participants are guided in self-assessing their own level of progress toward or into dependence or addiction. According to Rodney Stacey, an inmate who successfully completed Prime For Life, other treatment programs can’t hold a match compared to the one Dowdle leads.

“I was sent to a rehab (rehabilitation facility) in Athens that was court ordered as a part of my sentence and I didn’t get anything out of it because you ain’t have no choice,” Stacey remarked. “With Prime For Life I did have a choice, it wasn’t forced on me. It gave me a whole new outlook and made me put forth the effort. It really made me realize that I am an alcoholic and I had to sit down and realize what I valued most. For a long time, I valued alcohol over anything but I realized it will only get me back in here.”

Tracey Williams, another inmate who also participated in Prime For Life, agreed with Stacey about the benefits of having the ability to make and perceive their own thoughts and realizations throughout the course.

“Before I met Howard and before I took the class, I didn’t know I even had a problem. I learned a lot of things in those 20 hours and I learned a lot about addiction. I learned I really had a problem,” Williams said. “I haven’t been in any rehabs personally but I have known friends who have. All it is, is they are shaming you for your bad choices. Prime For Life isn’t like that, it was positive and now I see myself on the outside staying sober.”

Dowdle said after seeing the initial success and benefits from the 10 inmates who participated and graduated from the Prime For Life course, he and Nichols are already planning on offering another course geared towards female inmates.

“This course is really all about empowering people, and empowering people gives people hope,” Dowdle said.

Nichols added that it is of high priority on his agenda to not only continue drug enforcement but also offer individuals who face drug-related charges the tools to help rebuild and change their lives if they are willing to accept the help.

“Because the Sheriff’s department has been pretty active with drug enforcement, we realized we also need to offer help to the people,” Nichols said. “Drug enforcement will continue but we need to look at other ways to provide help to those people to be successful upon release. Most of them have families or loved ones that support them whether they are in or out of jail, but I’m sure they get frustrated when they get arrested time after time. Hopefully, this will provide them a tool to support each other for success and help reintroduce them into society.”