Sykesville halfway house gives addicts hope Those in recovery from alcohol and drugs can re-establish lives

September 19, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Over the past 14 years, Patrick T. Cook has made one bad choice after another. His criminal record includes convictions for theft, drug possession and distribution and forgery. He blames his mistakes on drugs and alcohol.

Now at 34, Cook says he's ready to take responsibility for his actions and make changes. He completed an inpatient drug rehabilitation program, and has been sober for eight months.

Cook is making his new start at the Friends in Recovery Home in Sykesville, Carroll County's first halfway house for recovering alcoholics and addicts. It opened in May in a vacant house at Springfield Hospital Center.

"I was tired of living my life through addictions," Cook said. "I've met a lot of supportive people, and I feel this house is the opportunity of a lifetime."

Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns agreed to send Cook to the halfway house as part of his sentence for a felony theft conviction. If Cook fails to stay sober and out of trouble, he could receive a 15-year prison sentence.

"I'm the first one coming here through the courts," Cook said. "I just want to do good."

The Friends in Recovery Home is the result of nearly 10 years of effort by Richard E. Blevins, 61, the coordinator of after-care services at Shoemaker House, the county's inpatient drug treatment center. He's also the founder of Friends in Recovery, a nonprofit group of recovering substance abusers.

Blevins, who works to place patients in appropriate settings after drug rehabilitation, saw a desperate need for a halfway house in Carroll. After inpatient treatment, some patients are homeless, and local shelters are inappropriate for recovering addicts and alcoholics because they don't address substance abuse. The nearest after-care halfway houses are in Baltimore and Frederick.

"Some of these people from Carroll County aren't used to dealing with city life," Blevins said. "You put them down in the city and it eats them up."

The Friends in Recovery Home sits in the shade of towering old trees at the edge of the Springfield center near busy Route 32.

Inside, the house is clean and bright. A dining-room shelf holds literature from Twelve Steps recovery programs. Houseplants and bowls of candy and potpourri create a cared-for feel.

"It's homey; that's the whole idea," said house manager Mike Dorsey, who oversees day-to-day operations in exchange for room and board. The house serves men only and eventually will accommodate 10 residents. The weekly room and board charge is $65.

"The guys come from different places and different lifestyles, but while they're here they're a family," Dorsey said. "That's what we want to get across."

It's a family atmosphere, but the program has strict house rules. The goal is to provide a structured environment to prepare residents to return to the community.

The men are required to work or look for a job, attend a minimum of five Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings week and participate in the upkeep of the house. Duty-roster chores include cleaning bathrooms, washing the kitchen floor daily, dusting, sweeping outside walks and porches. Housework to be completed by 10 a.m., unless that conflicts with work.

"It won't become a place you just go to flop," Blevins said. "It'll be a working community."

One afternoon this week, Rod -- a resident who asked that his last name not be used -- was preparing dinner for the five house members. He came to the Friends of Recovery Home in June, after a stay at a Baltimore halfway house.

"This one is totally different," he said. "It's so serene."

Rod, 45, was hospitalized in July 1996 after a suicide attempt related to his alcoholism and mental health problems. He said a halfway house setting has been an important part of his recovery.

"I had to focus on myself, and I couldn't do it in a setting where people would be giving me advice for their own reasons," he said.

While Rod tended to dinner, Cook was grinding wood chips into mulch for gardening. He works a roofing job, but spends much of his free time doing yardwork and repair jobs around the house.

"I'm going to make a big flower bed in the back yard and along the sidewalk and driveway," Cook said. "I'm taking pride in this house. It means a lot to me, and this is a way I can give something back."

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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