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DART peer counselors meet at 4th annual conference
October 30, 2000
Contact: Keith Acree, Public Information Officer  919-716-3700

GOLDSBORO – Every year a unique group of people gathers at Wayne Correctional Center for a weekend long meeting and reunion. They’re recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who work as DART peer counselors in the 12 Drug Alcohol Recovery Treatment centers in prisons across the state. Their jobs are to counsel and mentor other inmates, helping them down the road to new drug and alcohol free lifestyles.

About 140 current and former peer counselors, DART staffers and volunteers attended this year’s meeting at the Fourth Annual Peer Counselors Conference from Oct 26-29, for four days of teaching, learning and fellowship.

"This is good stuff," said Chris, a first-year peer counselor at Foothills Correctional Institution. "Sometimes after 10 minutes of listening to someone speak, I drift off. These guys really got my attention this morning."

The four day conference consisted of panel discussions and small groups talking about three themes critical to being a successful peer counselor: understanding the importance of separating your personal recovery from your job as a peer counselor; knowing the DART model; and being an effective role model.

The DART program was born at Wayne in January 1988 and the Peer Counselor Development Center program began in November 1995. Today DART-Wayne consists of 156 beds including 11 peer counselor beds and 20-peer development center beds. This is the largest prison-based DART facility and one that trains all the peer counselors. "I work at the mother ship," said Melvin, a peer counselor at Wayne. "Everyone wants to work at Wayne."

DART’s method of treating inmates with drug and alcohol dependencies is based on the Minnesota Model, developed during the 1950’s in Minnesota State hospitals. Researchers there found that recovering alcoholics and addicts were often more effective than others in helping alcoholics and drug addicts in their recovery. DART combines the Minnesota Model with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but it’s the peer counselors that make the difference.

"Ours is really a battle for hearts and minds, and the peer counselors play a huge role in that," said DART-Wayne director Steve Mitchel. "Without them. We wouldn’t have nearly the credibility."

"The first time I saw a peer counselor, I wanted what he had," said Ventura, a peer counselor at Brown Creek. "He had peace, humility, loving and an understanding way about him."

Peer counselors volunteer for the job and all have been through the DART treatment program themselves. Once they complete peer development training at Wayne, they are assigned to work at a DART treatment center and are paid $1 a day.

"We don’t just pick anyone to be a peer," said Melvin. "He needs to be doing things to make him an example for others."

The peer counselor’s effectiveness comes from the ability to relate so closely with their clients. They help make treatment an around the clock process, not one that pauses when the DART staff goes home at 5 o’clock.

"Clients in treatment can fool staff, but not the people they live with," said David, a peer counselor at Caswell. "You can’t fool someone who’s been there."

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