By Anthony Manuel Caravalho,
Aristeo Sampablo, and Michael Callahan
San Quentin’s drug treatment program, called Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment (ISUDT), offers periodic incentive days to celebrate participants’ completion of program elements such as life skills, cognitive behavioral intervention, drug and alcohol recovery and two after care components.
The incarcerated ISUDT participants gathered in the gym for a variety of tabletop games including Ping-Pong, dominoes, scrabble, and puzzles. Live Karaoke was a big hit as mentors, counselors and program participants belted tunes from hip-hop to country. On the basketball court friendly competitions of “HORSE,” were taking place.
ISUDT Director Lance Bohn said he was pleased with how the program is going.
“The goal for me as director would be to encourage as many individuals as the parameters will allow to become peer mentors,” said Bohn.
A key part of ISUDT is utilization of the peer mentors Bohn mentioned, trained by the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) at Valley State Prison and Solano Prison.
“The certification you will receive is an international certification, allowing you to practice anywhere. I want to
develop as many [mentors] as I can get, so if any incarcerated person is interested, please contact us,” Bohn said.
Bohn regularly sits in on the mentors’ classes and likes the direction the program is going. “OMCPs here are highly skilled and give us a good working partnership. We want motivated counselors to continue saving lives,” he said.
Kelon Williams and Sean Casteen are examples of successful OMCP graduates.
Williams completed Solano’s program in 2015. “I am teaching recovery, allowing guys to return to their authentic self. I help them recognize what changed in their lives to get them to use substances. A person must make choices to make a change — a choice to come to groups — and it starts with that first choice,” said Williams.
Sean Casteen arrived at San Quentin in January. “I’ve been addicted most my life and received three months of schooling for [OMCP] mentorship. I got involved to make a difference,” said Casteen.
“If I help only one person it is worth it. Recovery to me is who I am now, someone different then who I used to be.”
A spirit of service to incarcerated clients is ingrained in ISUDT staff and apparent in counselors Dilia Cortes, Shayla Scott, Jesse Lopez, as well as data clerk Stephanie Sanchez.
Cortes, a counselor for the Spanish community at San Quentin for three months, specializes in drug and alcohol recovery.
“I strive to educate our people, giving them skills and tools to return to their community,” said Cortes. She is not new to the profession, having worked with incarcerated people for 10 years.
Shayla Scott arrived in August 2022 and has worked as a counselor for eight years.
“Just because you made a mistake does not change how I see the incarcerated. You have to want recovery for yourself; it’s an everyday process,” said Scott.
“I want to help people change their beliefs and understand the difference between lapse and relapse. A lapse is a check where your mind is to prevent furthering your relapse. It gives you more knowledge to do better and to speak into their future; especially if you are honest about your recovery.”
Jesse Lopez’s passion comes from his experience with incarcerated family members. A staffer at SQ for nine months, Lopez has twelve years’ experience as a substance abuse counselor.
“My brother was incarcerated and when I talked to him it hit me; you’re my big brother but now I feel like I am the big brother,” said Lopez.
“A lot of my family was incarcerated here at San Quentin, so I work to do the most I can to help those struggling with addiction. Only one of my students has relapsed in nine months and I take it personally.”
“I want to help people who want to go home and contribute to society. I wish there was more we could do. You have to care about recovery to work here because society wants to see change,” said Lopez.
ISUDT data clerk Stephanie Sanchez has been working at San Quentin for three months. At San Quentin she has found that, “[This is] my passion and part of my career. I always believe in having a second opportunity to learn new things.”
The staff’s commitment to recovery and the benefits inherent in the addiction recovery program are not lost on its incarcerated clients.
Resident Jose Alas said, “I’ve never had the opportunity to be part of an event like this. We only see this at San Quentin.”
Incarcerated person in recovery Diego Rodriquez said, “ISUDT reflects on how I’m going to respond to my actions. SQ Rehabilitation Center is a welcoming aspect and wonderful point of view.”
“Awareness of recovery means I can better identify my triggers and seek mental health when needed; to prevent relapse and maintain healthy relationships with support groups and family,” said ISUDT participant Adam Jacob.
“Now I maintain sobriety; and cope with drug addiction. San Quentin has more programs for those with mental health challenges. [Counselor] Max Stroll is a great teacher — a straight-shooter who can relate to us because he began his recovery in prison,” said resident Eric Lewings.
Lou Bernabei is an incarcerated ISUDT recovery counselor. He noted that the program, which provides bilingual access for Spanish speakers, does not need the basketball games, board games or all the other accessories provided to participants on Incentive Day. “This day was about gratitude for recovery,” said Bernabei.
Participant Lucio Borjas and OMCP’s Spanish translator Ray Ochoa agreed with Bernabei.
“Living in a community where we help each other to reach our personal goals is great because we look out for each other,” said Borjas.
“Today we celebrated all participants in ISUDT’s self-help groups and gave them a day of appreciation. Groups in ISUDT include domestic violence prevention, anger management and victim impact through recovery support and sobriety. Every group completed counts towards a successful reentry,” said Ochoa.
The faces in the program change over time, but the process of rehabilitation continues steadily.