By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Amidst that pessimistic climate, the Amity Foundation got its start. "Therapeutic communities," where addicts work to help each other reinvent themselves while quitting drugs, had been tried in prisons as early as 1961, when one was established at New York City's Terminal Island correctional facility. But the more modern roots of today's movement began in the late '70s, in New York, with a program called Stay N' Out. After that program spread to Delaware, its success began catching the attention of a small number of law-enforcement professionals as something that was working. Then, in 1987, Amity began an experimental program in a Tucson, Arizona, jail.
Even as the Tucson program was getting established, one of its founders, Rod Mullen, approached Jim Rowland, a former probation officer from Fresno who had risen through the ranks to become California's director of corrections. Although Rowland was then working for ultraconservative law-and-order Governor George ã Deukmejian, he nevertheless agreed to allow Amity to create a small pilot program at Donovan in 1990, funded by the Department of Corrections. Even that modest step was a milestone.
It was also an eye opener, especially for Donovan's warden, John Ratelle. A white-haired man who looks like a U.S. senator in a Frank Capra movie, Ratelle was highly skeptical of Amity. In 1992, he ordered a surprise urine test of all Amity's prisoners. "I knew that I had 200 guys with serious drug problems, all living together and not isolated from the main yard," says Ratelle. So if they "wanted to get drugs, they could. I assumed that 25 percent . . . would turn up dirty." But only one participant "was positive for drugs -- marijuana. I was shocked but I was very impressed. That was the single most important event . . . in convincing me that the program was really working."
WORKING, THAT IS, AGAINST ALL ODDS. THE STORY OF Randy Journey -- a Donovan prisoner and Amity volunteer -- illustrates how daunting those odds are. Journey still grows dreamy-eyed when he recalls a long-ago acid trip he took on the Colorado River, and how he caught the moment and stayed gloriously locked within it as the river flowed a shimmering silver. He can also recount with deadpan amusement how he's walked the yard with some of the biggest celebrity names in the criminal world during the 20 years -- half his life -- he's spent in California prisons: former savings-and-loan executive Charles Keating; Charlie Manson's acid-tripping dupes Tex Watson and Bruce Davis; and Onion Field cop killer Jimmy Lee Smith.
Journey grew up the black-sheep son of a retired white cop in the small Imperial Valley town of Brawley, which, as Journey tells it, was the number-one stop for the high-grade heroin being smuggled from Mexicali during the '60s and '70s. He got hooked early on, and has subsequently never spent more than 90 days in a row outside prison walls. To support his heroin addiction, he always committed the same crime: Pretend he was the owner of a legitimate business, order materials and parts from lumberyards and machine shops, forge a bill of sale, then fence the goods for half price.
Over his years in prison dating back to the mid-'70s, Journey, a sad-eyed, potbellied, balding man, was given two different California Department of Corrections "N" numbers. The "N" stands for narcotics, and indicates that someone should receive drug treatment. So twice he was committed to the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco. As Journey tells it, "CRC was a joke. There was no rehabilitation. Nothing at all to help a drug addict." His stays there were spectacular failures: He was sent back to Norco 10 times more for testing dirty. Every time he was released, even before he got to the sally-port gate, all Journey had in mind was that first fix. "I'd failed," says Journey, "before I even got out."
Until recently, 99 percent of California's prisoners received no guidance to help them re-enter the outside world. Dumped cold back into their communities, the vast majority of released prisoners were almost guaranteed to fail. "When you leave prison, they give you $200 gate money and essentially tell you to figure out the rest," says former Donovan inmate and now Amity counselor Charles Goshen, "so all I'd be thinking about was who I was gonna rob when my $200 was gone."
"Two hundred dollars isn't much," points out Ricardo Hinojosa, like Goshen an ex-Donovan prisoner and Amity veteran. "Not when you have to buy shoes, socks, underwear and a jacket, pay for your transportation home and look for a place to live. By the time you show up at the parole office, you've got $10 or $15 left. And they pretty much tell you, 'Good luck.' There's only about 42 beds in all San Diego County for paroled prisoners, and shelters, particularly in cold weather, are always filled. So if you don't have a family, there's really no place to go. Some dope at that point will certainly take the chill off your back."
For Amity's inmates, that's the ultimate test: surviving their release from prison. No matter how optimistic the results of John Ratelle's urine testing, or how straight the prisoners manage to stay while still inside, they must eventually carry the lessons of Amity back into civilian life. The task of weaning inmates from drugs is difficult enough; Amity also has the more daunting challenge of arming prisoners against the temptations and despairs of life outside the wall.
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