Graduates earn international certificates to become alcohol-drug abuse counselors

Article by Dana Simas, OPEC Public Information Officer

Video by Jeff Baur, OPEC TV Specialist

People helping people, the stories we all love, people doing things to make a positive difference in others’ lives; that’s exactly what’s happening inside California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

And it’s the inmates helping other inmates.

Inside Avenal State Prison (males) and Central California Women’s Facility, inmates, many of whom are facing life sentences, are changing not only their own lives but are learning how to effect change by counseling other inmates.

The Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) gives selected inmates an opportunity to become licensed substance abuse treatment counselors, which often leads to counseling jobs once they leave prison.

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“(The inmates) have deep-rooted issues,” said Sol Irving, a retired Correctional Counselor III who initially founded the program at California State Prison-Solano in 2009. “Not only are you dealing with substance abuse but you’re dealing with self-esteem, you’re dealing with denial management, and character building.”

The OMCP is a voluntary program for long- and life-term inmates who complete a closely supervised 4,000-hour counseling internship in an in-prison substance abuse treatment program.  Each participant must also successfully pass the Counselor Certification written examination, currently provided through California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors. The certification is recognized by the Department of Health Care Services

Once inmates graduate from this program, they are assigned as inmate mentors at the substance abuse treatment programs within CDCR’s Reentry Hub facilities.

The primary goal of the OMCP is to teach inmates the skills they need to work alongside certified contracted drug and alcohol counselors to provide enhanced treatment services to other inmates assigned to substance abuse treatment programs.

There are currently inmates serving as certified drug and alcohol abuse addiction counselors at the following prisons:

  • Avenal State Prison
  • California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi
  • California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo
  • California Rehabilitation Center in Norco
  • Correctional Training Facility in Soledad
  • Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Center and State Prison, Corcoran
  • California State Prison-Solano
  • Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla
  • California Institution for Women in Corona

After completing the program and working as drug abuse counselors inside the prisons, many offenders have found success on the outside.

“The inmates who paroled that are certified, a large majority of them are employed as counselors in private agencies and are very successful. Some of them are running the agencies now,” Irving said.

Two of the program’s graduates, Al Roensch and Rob Moore recently spoke at a gathering of state and local law enforcement representatives, judges, and community treatment providers to discuss reentry services for inmates. Reentry services focus on helping offenders transition from prison or jail back into the community, services include housing, treatment, counseling, employment assistance, and child care.

Both men discussed their journey through the OMCP while serving prison sentences at CSP-Solano to where they are today as members of the community.

“While I was in Solano I got my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and that wouldn’t have happened had I not gotten into the Offender Mentor Certification Program,” Roensch said.

CADAC teaser“It’s not just about this recovery thing…it’s about a new way of living,” Moore said.

Both Al and Rob were part of the first 50 inmates selected for the OMCP when it began at Solano in December 2009.

The first step in training is to get inmates in the program to recognize their own issues and work on them.

“We went through the ‘parallel process,’” Roensch said. “You can’t (help other people) if you haven’t addressed your own self.”

Roensch, who was released in July 2013 after serving 17 years in prison, is currently working and waiting for his parole to finish. After that he plans on working as a substance abuse treatment counselor in the community, he has high hopes for his future.

“From where I was and who I used to be, good things are coming,” he said.

After his release from prison three years ago, Moore has obtained a Master’s degree in Social Work and is currently a doctorate candidate.

“What I know about the person I am now is that I like this person and hopefully I’m helping people,” Moore said.