The CARA program, Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy, at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility was started in 2010 to address the criminal thinking associated with drug addiction. Participants in the program are habitual offenders and come from jails across the state. They are segregated from the general population and placed in their own unit for five-and-a-half weeks. They are expected to adhere to a strict set of rules and participate in extensive group therapy and class work that addresses the root of their substance abuse.
Nineteen-year-old Dakota Sanford was serving a sentence for burglary in Waldo county when he was accepted into the CARA program. Sanford joined nine other inmates from jails across the state to participate in the 34th CARA group. Inmates must apply to the program and demonstrate a connection between their criminal behavior and substance abuse. Sanford said he originally joined the program because it shortened his sentence. "I hated everybody in here the first day," said Sanford. "I was like, 'Why am I here?' These are all drug addicts, alcoholics, wash-up junkies. I don't need to be here."
CARA participants spend 24 hours a day together in a segregated cell block. Starting at 5 a.m. each day, they attend classes and group therapy sessions ranging from substance abuse training and anger management to parenting and resume writing. The program is centered around the participants building a community among themselves by learning to resolve issues and trust one another. The group is expected to be active participants in each others' recovery process. "I didn't expect to have to throw my life stories out there like that with everybody," said CARA participant Joey Johnson. "Sometimes I felt like I just wanted to give up because I would get mad or embarrassed." Johnson said he began drinking age 12 as a way of coping with his father's death and since has had a difficult time speaking about it. "But several times I've brought it up here and it didn't bother me," he said. Buy Photo
CARA participant Shaun Geisinger draws a picture of a ticking time bomb during a class exercise where participants were asked to describe a day in their lives, "I grew up in group homes. I used violence to solve my problems. Anytime I was in a situation, I was ready to explode." Buy Photo
Many CARA participants come from broken homes and traumatic childhoods, said Kennebec County corrections officer Edward Anderson. The program encourages inmates to open up about their experiences which can often be the cause of their addiction. "There is a lot of hurt, a lot of anger that goes on internally," said Anderson. "In here they have to face it. There's no drugs here." Buy Photo
The CARA participants enjoy a brief moment of sunshine as they are transferred between the indoor recreation area and their cell block at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility. CARA groups are segregated from the general population and spend the entire program living with the other participants. Buy Photo
CARA participants Ralph Mosher, left, and Shaun Geisinger lift weights during their recreation time. The program is designed around building trust amongst the participants. "In here we are not inmates. We are participants. We are nine guys. We are in a community," said CARA participant Dakota Sanford. Buy Photo
CARA participant Joe Santerre is frisked before exiting the cell block for recreation. "Using I never really stopped and looked at myself," said Santerre. "But being sober and having to look at yourself, going over what brought you here, you really see it. It sticks out to you." Buy Photo
CARA participants, from left to right, Shawn Peaslee, Steven Beaulieu, Dakota Sanford and Stephen Foley are lead through breathing exercises during a meditation class. "If I hadn't come here I'd probably be in a crazy house or even dead," said Beaulieu. "When I got arrested I had a box cutter in my pocket that I planned on using on myself. I was going to kill myself. This [program] literally saved my life." Buy Photo
CARA participant Shawn Peaslee tries to calm his son at the end of a family visit at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility. Peaslee, 25, has two children with his longtime girlfriend but has spent a significant portion of his children's lives incarcerated. "My family has most definitely stuck by side through this," said Peaslee. "It sucks not being with them but I am in here trying to fix myself." Buy Photo
CARA participant Joey Johnson holds hands with his girlfriend during a visit at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility. "My girlfriends is a big reason why I'm doing this program," said Johnson. "She knows the drinking and the partying and the fighting. She doesn't know this side of me." Buy Photo
Two days before graduating from the CARA program, Joe Santerre learned he would not be released from jail but would instead be placed back in general population to finish his sentence. Leaving the structure of the CARA program is probably the largest hurdle participants face, said Kennebec County corrections officer Edward Anderson. Most participants are released without jobs or housing and back into the social groups that encouraged their criminal behavior. "One of the things I tell them is that everything you left out there is still out there. The difference is what are you going to do when you get out there?"
The CARA participants share cigarettes after their graduation outside the Kennebec County Jail. Many were released that day after a ceremony in front of family and friends. "I'm always going to be thinking about getting high or getting drugs. But I just got to get past it," said CARA participant Stephen Foley. "Some people say one breath at a time. Some people say one minute at a time. But for me its one breath at a time."
Ralph Mosher surveys his small rented room in Augusta a week after completing the CARA program. "I have nothing. I lost my house. I lost my clothes. I lost everything," he said. He will spend the next five weeks participating an outpatient program for CARA graduates living in Kennebec County. Buy Photo
CARA graduates Joey Johnson, right, and Shawn Peaslee smoke cigarettes after playing basketball in downtown Augusta. A week after graduating the CARA program, Johnson said he has been around several people abusing drugs. Without a job, idleness and boredom create a huge temptation to use, he said, I'm just going to take it a day at a time. I was successful today. I'll see what comes tomorrow." Buy Photo
“We have come together, together to change our lives through honoring the value of ourselves, our loved ones and our community.”
The words bounce off the concrete walls of the cell block and amplify the voices of the nine men who recite them. They stand shoulder to shoulder in matching maroon shirts tucked into khaki pants. One after another, they step forward and recite a different part of their mantra.
“We must accept.”
“We must be mindful.”
“We must yield.”
These are the inmates of CARA, Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy, a program at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility that works to address the source of addiction and criminal behavior in Maine’s habitual offenders. Started in 2010 as the brainchild of Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, the unique program segregates a male and female group of inmates from the general population for 5½ weeks of extensive group therapy and skill building.
“We realized that warehousing people is just not the answer,” said Edward Anderson, a Kennebec County corrections officer who works in the CARA unit and helped develop the program. “We were looking to find something that worked.”
Inmates come to the program from jails across the state. Usually they are at the end of their sentence and their repeated criminal behavior has been linked to drug abuse. The male CARA group at the time, the 24th such group to undergo the program, ranged in criminal background, drug of choice and age. The youngest participant was 19 and the oldest was 37.
CARA groups maintain a rigorous daily schedule of classes including criminal thinking, anger management, drug abuse counseling and even parenting skills. Their day starts at 5 a.m. and typically lasts till 11 p.m. The program is designed to have inmates recognize the root of their addiction and the triggers that cause them to use and commit crimes. They must memorize and recite the CARA creed three times a day as a reminder of why they have come to the program.
But the most unique aspect of the program is the focus on building a community within the unit. CARA groups must hold community meetings three times a day where they address individual’s concerns and make decisions as a group. The success of the program hinges on the ability of the individual interact and grow within the group, Anderson said. But it isn’t an easy process.
“There is a lot of hurt, a lot of anger, that goes on internally,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know how to ask for help. You have to develop a trust level. They have to learn how to trust one another.”
Anderson said there is a visible transformation in the inmates’ attitudes and outlook as the progress through the program, but success isn’t guaranteed. Graduates of the program have relapsed and returned to jail after getting out.
The program can only give inmates the tools. It is up to them to change their behavior, Anderson said.
“I tell them that everything you left out there is still out there. The difference is what are you going to do when you get out there,” he said.
In the cell block, the last inmate steps forward and bellows the final line of the creed:
“We have come together. Together to be accountable members of the community and live the potential that stands before us.”