Men say drugs, alcohol cost them everything
CROSSROADS OF CRIME: Only 27 percent of inmates who take
class at jail return
BY KEN KOSKY
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
McGill said he should have known the path could have
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 --
"I ended up being a stereotypical actual skid row bum,"
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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
His biggest regret?
"Losing the person I was at an early age," said the
41-year-old Chesterton man, a native of Gary and
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
"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