By Lt. Joshua Tyree, AA/Public Information Officer
California Correctional Institution

(Editor’s note: This is a first-person account of a Correctional Lieutenant learning more about an inmate-recovery program.)

On April 19, three Trust Account Withdrawal Order Forms came to my desk – each of them donating $510.27.

Why were inmates in a Celebrate Recovery group donating so much money to so many groups?  And what is Celebrate Recovery and who are the inmates involved?

So I did a little research. I am in no way endorsing or downgrading the Celebrate Recovery program.

And many of you who currently participate at any level in Celebrate Recovery, will probably think I capture everything that you or others personally feel about the program. If you think, “but there is so much more to tell,” you’re right.

I wanted to see what Celebrate Recovery was or wasn’t doing for the inmate participants at the California Correctional Institution (CCI).

On March 26, the participants of the Celebrate Recovery Inmate Leisure Time Activity Group (ILTAG) on the Facility D yard held an inmate food sale.

The group participants decided to donate any proceeds from the sale of the food equally to three different non-profit organizations – the Disabled American Veterans of Bakersfield, Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault and Kern Bridges Youth Home.

The food sale raised enough money for each group to receive $510.27.  The self-help sponsors for the Celebrate Recovery program at CCI are three female office technicians: S. Snyder, L. Tavarez and C. Litton.

Celebrate Recovery was founded out of the heart of the Saddleback Church about 25 years ago and has rapidly expanded throughout the country through additional curriculum.

To learn more, I spoke to the inmates on Facility D who are the participants and leaders of the group.

Inmates Philip Garcia, Walter Reid, Karl Ditommaso and Matthew Walker are currently the four leaders of the Celebrate Recovery group on Facility D.

They each hold a position as a TEAM – “T” stands for the position of Training Coach, “E” for the position of Encourager Coach, “A” for the Assimilation Coach, and “M” for the Ministry Leader Coach.

I briefly talked with them about their roles within the recovery group and how the group operates.  Each inmate gave me a little bit of their perspective on how the meetings go and where they are currently at in the program.

I asked Ditommaso to tell me, in a few sentences, what is Celebrate Recovery about here at CCI Facility D?

“It’s about admitting that we have character deficiencies and that we have all done wrong and taking responsibility for our actions and faults,” he said.

I asked Walker about what lesson they are currently in with the Facility D Celebrate Recovery group.

He said, “We are in a 12-Step study group that discusses our hurts, habits and hang ups.”

I asked Reid, “Is Celebrate Recovery a program that once an individual completes the steps, you are completely done and supposed to completely give you the tools necessary or the ability not to re-offend when you parole?”

He replied, “Three of us are lifers and may never get out but in one of my last talks …”

I interrupted, “You said three of you are lifers? And you are still an active leader in this program?”

Reid replied, “Yes, our hope is that we all go through the program, lifers or guys who continue the program on the streets if they parole. We need to follow our steps daily and not while just at the meetings, making sure we are watching our ups and downs on a daily basis and relying on others for support in the worst of times and in the best of times. Sure there are some participants who are just here for the certificate.  But that is not what Celebrate Recovery is for.  It’s for changing life and giving support for that change.”

Reid said the group is not intended to be a short-term program to heal all wrongs or wounds but is intended for continued group support for a lifetime.

I asked, “How much connection or contact does Celebrate Recovery group at Facility D have with other Celebrate Recovery groups outside of prison?”

Walker said, “Actually, my sister started Celebrate Recovery about two months ago. She originally went to a church to establish a connection for me with the Celebrate Recovery group on the streets and so maybe one day if I were to get out, I would already have a Celebrate Recovery group to join. But in looking for me, she joined a group herself.”

I asked Garcia if Celebrate Recovery was only a program for persons addicted to drugs or alcohol.

“An addiction is not just with drugs or alcohol,” Garcia said. “An addiction can be with many things in life such as addiction to pride or control. We help each other in Celebrate Recovery to recognize our addictions and we help each other clear our minds and move forward.”

They said they donated to the three groups because they wanted to help groups that focused on relationship building and one of their group members is a military veteran.

I didn’t look up the crimes these inmates have done or review their disciplinary history. That is not what this article is about.

The four Celebrate Recovery participants I interviewed are participating in a program that promotes people admitting error, faults, and wrongdoings.

To discover their past wrongdoings would diminish the positive future each individual may have regardless if that future is behind prison walls or in a public community.

Celebrate Recovery is definitely not the only ILTAG out there and I am not saying the Celebrate Recovery program works or doesn’t work. But I now know what the program is about and how it benefits the four individuals incarcerated on Facility D.