CCSO faith-based program graduates second class
PUNTA GORDA — The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office’s faith-based program for jail inmates graduated its second class Wednesday, and much like the inaugural class, this second group, which consisted of four grads, is hoping the lessons learned in the program will help to provide a new start once they’re released.
Dan Wilson, 30, who violated his probation on previous drug charges, feels the program will help him not only be a better citizen but provide a better life for his 4-year-old son, who is waiting for him at home.
He doesn’t know quite how long he’ll be in jail — he has a court appearance scheduled for next week — but when he does get back home he said he’ll have the necessary tools to move his life forward.
“When I first got here, I didn’t think I did anything wrong. It was really hard to be honest with myself,” Wilson said. “If you’re not honest with yourself, it’s not going to work. You can’t fake it.”
The faith-based program is taught by volunteers, certified counselors and jail chaplain services, combining counseling, life skills, employment skills, addiction support and anger-management skills, among others. Agencies such as the CCSO, 211 and Lighthouse Addiction Services combine forces to make it a reality.
Educating inmates about the teachings and practices of major religions is another part of the program’s efforts, with lessons including aspects of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Bahaism and Taoism. The goal is to teach inmates respect for religious diversity.
But CCSO Chaplain Brian Wilcox said the program isn’t an effort to force religion on inmates, but instead spirituality
is used as an entry to point for inmates to start examining their lives and prepare them for their eventual release.
Wilcox added that the program isn’t a “how to” manual, but instead a way to teach togetherness to the inmates.
“We want them to learn how to live in this world compassionately with others,” Wilcox said.
CCSO command staff is hoping the inmates who have graduated from the program keep in touch with the agency after their releases, just to see what type of long-term effect the program had on them and their community.
Corrections Deputy First Class Paul Dempster, who also coordinates the program, said almost everyone wants to change something about themselves, but the inmates who took part in the program actually stepped up to the plate and did it.
That’s likely true for Alex Arrocha, a graduate of the program’s first class, who acted in an advisory role for the second round of inmates looking to change their lives.
Arrocha, who is scheduled to be released next week, said drug addiction classes don’t work, and only forward-thinking efforts like the faith-based program will help inmates turn their lives around.
“This program makes you really look at yourself. And sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward,” he said.