By Nadine Ono.
When 37-year-old Jason was about to be released from jail earlier this year, he didn’t know what he was going to do. He did know, however, that he didn’t want to return to the life that had him cycling through jail and living on the streets. Luckily he found out about the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s S.T.A.R.T. (Sheriff’s Transitional Assistance Reentry Team) program.
S.T.A.R.T. arranged to have Jason, who was introduced to drugs at 16 and had been arrested seven times, enter the San Bernardino Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center with transportation from jail to the facility.
“When I came, one of the two deputies who brought me there got out of the driver’s seat and opened the back door and took off my handcuffs,” recalled Jason. “I was in jail mode and I was thinking, ‘I’m not ready yet, because if you take them off, I’m going to take off.'” But he didn’t. He walked through the door and started the program that includes housing, substance abuse counseling, job training and classes in spirituality and social skills.
That was six months ago. Today he is a graduate of the program and preparing to move to the next phase, which includes living in transitional housing, continuing to work and moving toward getting his identification and his Social Security.
“I’m a different person now,” said Jason.
“I give them the tools. It’s up to them to get the success,” explained Sheriff’s Custody Specialist Heather Beidler who runs S.T.A.R.T. She identifies individuals about to be released who could benefit from reentry services, such those with multiple bookings, homelessness and substance abuse disorder.
“Our biggest success comes from being able to transport straight from custody to the designated program,” Beidler added. “It is voluntary. We’ve had a couple of people deny, but most get in the car. I think the drive to change is what fuels them to get in the car and make it to the next step.”
The program is nearly two years old. In that time, it has made 2,789 inmate contacts as they were released from custody, placed 152 in reentry programs such as the Salvation Army, referred 258 to the County Department of Behavioral Health’s Corrections to a Safer Community (CTASC) program and 440 to the County’s Probation Department. It is a challenging community with 1,100 individuals self-identifying as homeless, 590 to having a substance abuse disorder, and 632 to having mental health illness.
Custody Specialist Beidler first got in contact with the Salvation Army at the one of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Resource Fairs for soon-to-be-released inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Facility. They formed a partnership and now the S.T.A.R.T. team places individuals through a process that involves pre-screening applications and Salvation Army approval. The partnership grew when the Sheriff’s Department started providing transportation from the jails to the reentry programs including the Salvation Army.
“It started out here and there, but over the past seven or eight months, it’s really picked up to where now we are calling or texting every day,” said Intake Coordinator Jeffrey Campbell of the San Bernardino Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center.
David, who entered the Salvation Army program with the assistance of S.T.A.R.T., was also ready for a change after spending years in jail for transporting drugs. “The only people I know are in the drug industry. That’s the only people I associate with. So if I was to get out, I didn’t have anyone to turn to who was not criminal.”
David also found S.T.A.R.T. at the detention center Resource Fair. “I went around to each of those tables and I talked to all of them. They have plenty of programs there. Their best advice was ‘Give us a call when you get out.’ When I get out? That would be too late. Heather was the only person there who can help me.” David has been at the Salvation Army for four months. He’s looking forward to finishing the program, getting a job and staying out of trouble.
The success of the program has allowed it to grow and help more individuals. “The last three months have been so instrumental for the jail population because I’ve managed to get into all four major jails that we have here,” said Custody Specialist Beidler. “My goal is to add a team at each jail to target a much larger scale of inmates.”
As for Jason, his goal is to reunite with his family out of state. After living a life in and out of jail, he’s determined to succeed: “I’m climbing that hill back up. This time I’m not going down it.”