Porter County Sheriff's Department

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Alcohol Cost Them Everything

Men say drugs, alcohol cost them everything

CROSSROADS OF CRIME: Only 27 percent of inmates who take class at jail return
This story ran on nwitimes.com on Monday, November 28, 2005 1:11 AM CST


VALPARAISO | Joe McGill always shook his head in disgust or pity when he saw bums lying on park benches, clutching their bottles of booze.
After all, McGill spent eight years in the elite Navy Seals, completed double marathons and Ironman races and became a successful store manager. He got married, had a daughter who adored him and even had a new home and car.

But a few years later, he was on one of those park benches, a bottle of alcohol in his freezing hand. People in shiny cars sped past, casting glances of disgust or pity his way.
McGill, 43, told his story inside the Porter County Jail, where he was locked up after getting arrested for public intoxication three times in three weeks in August.
McGill said he should have known the path could have been his.
All the men on both sides of his family were alcoholics. He said he was the son of an alcoholic who put him in the hospital on more than one occasion during his childhood and who later promised to pick him up and spend time with him. McGill would get up early to sit on the curb, excitedly slurping a bowl of cereal and waiting for his dad. But then the sun set, and he would go back inside.
When McGill got older, his addiction was exercise, not alcohol. But slowly, things happened. His employer went out of business, he gained weight, and he and his wife divorced. McGill turned to the old family friend -- alcohol.
"I ended up being a stereotypical actual skid row bum," McGill said.
The only breaks from the street life came when he cleaned himself up, rented a hotel room and hung out with his daughter before bidding her farewell and popping open a bottle.
He remembers lying under a viaduct, praying to God for the strength to change -- to be able to work and save money. Instead, a fellow alcoholic tapped McGill on the shoulder and showed him a bottle.
McGill drank.
"That's how crazy and insane my addiction was," he said.
McGill, who lived in the Washington, D.C., area at the time, was homeless for about a year before coming to Valparaiso in May to reunite with his father.
McGill said he was sober for two months, but when his elderly father hit him, the 250-pound ex-Navy Seal beat him back.
"I ended hurting him. He had to be hospitalized. That's when my drinking started up," McGill said. "I immediately started wandering the streets of Valparaiso with a brown paper bag."

McGill, who was released from jail Nov. 1, said his time behind bars and his participation in the jail's substance-abuse group allowed him to get out of the despair alcohol causes.
The "grip on me loosens a little bit each day," he said.
Instead of wanting to go to Las Vegas to gamble, drink and die, McGill's plan upon his release from jail was to visit his daughter for a couple of weeks until a slot opened in a Veterans Affairs treatment program.
He expected his treatment to last four months to two years, with the goal of slowly transitioning to normal life.
"Not being a father to my daughter -- that's what hurts me the most. I'm hurting her," McGill said, noting the irony of how alcohol ruined another generational relationship.
"I ended up being the kind of father I despised the most," he said.
McGill, who has post traumatic stress disorder from the military activity he witnessed in Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other places, also plans to take medication to help in the rehabilitation process.
Looking back, McGill said he did everything to avoid his family's legacy of alcoholism, including moving 1,000 miles away and changing his name. Now, instead of running from it, he said he is facing it head-on.
McGill said he knows that if he ever has a single drink, he'll be back on the cold park bench within weeks, with passing motorists in their expensive sedans and sport utility vehicles looking down upon him.
"I don't know if I'll succeed or not," he said. "I'm scared. I have a long, long road ahead of me. ... But now, I see some hope."
If their stories could help
Each of the 37 men with whom McGill graduated from the Porter County Jail chemical dependency and addictions class tells a similar story.
If Richard Shoback could live his life again, he said he would earn a college degree, provide loving guidance to his two sons and maybe even pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player.
That life sounds better than his. He stole $100,000 from the grandparents who raised him and sent them to graves with broken hearts. And he chose marijuana and crack cocaine over his job, the women in his life and his two sons.
His biggest regret?
"Losing the person I was at an early age," said the 41-year-old Chesterton man, a native of Gary and Merrillville.
Shoback, during an interview inside the concrete and steel of the Porter County Jail, said he's an example of what can happen to someone who thinks he's making cool choices in life.
"I'd really, really like some kid to save their life because of my life," Shoback said.
The inmates who complete drug and alcohol education all get diplomas, cake and a head start on their pursuit to remain free of drugs and alcohol, said their instructor, Dennis Mallonee, a chemical dependency and addictions therapist at Porter-Starke Services.
Most of them shared their stories with The Times to help those who might follow them.
"Little did I know it would lead to nothing but pain, hardships and to nightmares some people would never comprehend," said Shoback, who has spent a third of his life behind bars.
Just before graduating from the jail's drug class, Jerry Morris, 27, of Portage, who is behind bars on a possession of marijuana charge, learned his uncle committed suicide. His uncle had been addicted to drugs, and Morris said his uncle's death should make him want to avoid drugs forever.
But Morris admitted, "If I was out on the streets today, I'd be searching for something to get rid of the pain."
Many county jails don't offer substance abuse education programs, but Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds said 95 percent of inmates are behind bars because of substance abuse. The big drugs are heroin, meth, crack cocaine, OxyContin and alcohol.
National statistics show about 55 percent of inmates who are released return to jail, but only 27 percent of inmates who take the classes at Porter County Jail end up back there.
"The fact that we don't see them back here is encouraging," Mallonee said. "When we don't see them, that's good. It gives us hope that they're successful."
Mallonee said he teaches the inmates about how -- if they continue to hang out with the same crowds, use substances to cope with their problems and live without any plans for support or treatment -- they are likely to return to jail.
Reynolds said it isn't politically correct to push for more drug treatment, but if more people overcome addictions, fewer people will be out committing burglaries and robberies to support their habits.
At the recent graduation ceremony, several inmates read "goodbye letters" -- notes they wrote to their drugs of choice.
"It brings up a lot of emotion, and it reminds them what the drug has cost them -- their freedom, their families, their jobs, their money, their health. They lost so much," Mallonee said.
"When they see it in black and white, the anger and frustration bubbles to the surface, and it becomes an emotional situation."



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