Peer-based support program assists with addiction counseling
The Offender Mentor Certification Program is changing incarcerated lives for the better.
OMCP is a volunteer program that provides long-term offenders a year of training to become a “certified offender mentor.” The program focuses on Alcohol and Other Drug addiction counseling. Once graduated, the mentors are assigned to serve as co-facilitators within the Integrated Substance Use DisorderTreatment programs throughout California’s adult prisons.
“OMCP is a program that requires you to work on yourself first,” said mentor Larry Johnson. “This program has been so beneficial and is a blessing from God for me. I can help so many people; also, this is a real job for me when I parole.”
After completion of training and internship hours, offender mentors earn certificates that are recognized by the Department of Health Care Services. This can assist in obtaining employment as a drug counselor upon release.
In order to graduate and become certified, mentors must pass a written AOD counselor exam issued by the certifying organization. Additionally, each mentor is closely supervised through a 2,000-hour counseling internship within the ISUDT program.
“I’ve learned that effective counseling is not about ‘teach-ing’ or ‘coaching’ people how to be sober,” said program participant Todd Winkler. “It is about helping people decide for themselves that they want to commit to sobriety. In this manner, addiction counseling is not about leading horses to water, it is about helping the horses realize that they are thirsty. This program has helped me to become a better listener and more empathetic towards others.”
For Henok Rufael, the program has been more than just beneficial. “It is life changing. It has introduced me to a brotherhood and fraternity of support, accountability and lifelong relationships founded in growth and support,” Rufael said. “OMCP is one of the most valuable experiences I have had in my years of incarceration.”
Watson Allison spent 35 of his 40 years of incarceration at San Quentin. Originally, he was on Death Row but was re-sentenced to 25-to-life. Allison is the only individual from Death Row to complete OMCP.
His OMCP training began in June of 2015 at Solano State Prison. After gaining his certification he worked as an incarcerated mentor for five years. Allison paroled in July of 2020. For the past eight months, at age 63, he has returned to San Quentin to work as a free-staff counselor.
“The most beneficial thing for me was gaining the courage to look within myself and address my issues,” Allison said. “The program helped me prepare for the Board by allowing me to be totally open and transparent. I want to give thanks to Kimberly Chu [supervising Correctional Counselor] at Solano. Thanks to CCIII Collins at San Quentin for believing in me and encouraging me when I did not believe in myself.”
Additional information about the OMCP program is available at www.cdcr.ca.gov/rehabilitation/omcp.html