North Carolina Department of Correction news release

APRIL 1, 1998

First Group of Young Men Complete SARGE

Hoffman - The clear, bright eyes of 17 young men shone with joy and a sense of pride as they walked to the front of the Morrison Youth Institution chapel to get a bear hug and a diploma from John Ferguson for completing of the first phase of SARGE.

The ceremony marked a new beginning for Ferguson and the young men. He’s worked to get the State Alliance for Recovery and General Education of Chemically Dependent Youth program up and running at Morrison and the Dillon Training School at Butner. The prisoners just completed 600 hours of substance abuse treatment in the last six months.

"What we got on August 20 was a group of rowdy, belligerent prisoners. Now what we have is 17 human beings that have begun to engage in recovery from their addiction," Ferguson said. "We’ve been able to take the idea for SARGE we had on paper and bring it to life."

SARGE has three phases. This group of offenders just completed the first phase in a six-month intensive residential treatment setting. Next is three months of similar treatment that focuses on issues that help them to make a successful transition back into their community. For these young men, that may include promotion to a minimum security prison where they would participate in programs like work release and attend community meetings with volunteers. Finally, aftercare programs maintain contact with the offender after he returns to the community.

SARGE staff say many of the young men confronted their alcoholism or drug addiction for the first time during the program. With the help of their counselors, they learned to admit their problems and use the 12 Steps to begin a life of recovery. In the process, they learned to communicate and cooperate, skills that were lacking when they arrived.

"I didn’t think it was going to work for me. I didn’t truly know I was an alcoholic until I got here," said one of the young offenders. "SARGE counselors put us in a different environment. They got our minds off prison and on the rest of our life. It’s not easy."

For many of the young men taking part in the ceremony, returning to the places where they developed their habits won’t be easy. But many family members were at the ceremony to cheer for them. In the prison dining hall after the ceremony, the young men sat down with their parents and some with their children to celebrate the turning point in their lives.

"I have a greater sense of hope for this group of young men who are beginning to turn their lives around," said Lattie Baker, Assistant Secretary for Alcohol and Chemical Dependency Programs. "You can see a difference in their lives. That’s very, very positive."

When this group first entered SARGE, it included 21 young men. Four others have already returned to the community. SARGE’s aftercare program has worked to establish three months of continued care in their communities after release and to connect them with sponsors and 12-Step meetings near their homes.