Spirituality is key part of program for addicts Ministry celebrates 10 years of teaching recovery course

November 08, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A self-described retired career criminal who has battled addictions for most of his 51 years, William "J.R." Harris believes he can finally see a drug-free and hope-filled future.

Harris yesterday completed the eight-week course at the Cathedral House Re-Entry Program, which helps recovering addicts discover a sense of spirituality and places them in good-paying, long-term jobs.

The Cathedral House program, which is funded by Episcopal Social Ministries, operates in the basement of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon. It celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend with a party tonight to welcome back some of its nearly 700 graduates and a thanksgiving Eucharist tomorrow.

Graduates such as Harris credit Cathedral House with helping them with the critical step in a recovery program of getting in touch with a higher power in their lives.

"This program has given me something I never knew existed," he said. "It has helped me to get in touch with a spiritual entity I understand. It's personal. It's nobody's but mine. And I can believe in something that's good for me.

"Drugs had become my higher power for a long time," he said. "For me this has been a real awakening, because I led a hard-core criminal, hard-core addict life. I'm doing the right thing, which is something I haven't felt in a long time."

The Cathedral House Re-entry Program was founded in 1987 and has established an impressive record. Nearly 75 percent of those who enroll in the program complete it. Among those who do graduate, 90 percent are hired at jobs that pay more than minimum wage, most of them with benefits. And more important, 90 percent maintain their recovery.

"I came in as a skeptic," said Dr. Ralph L. Piedmont, director of the Institute for Religious and Psychological Research at Loyola College, who evaluated the program in 1993.

Piedmont and his assistants evaluated the 132 members of three classes at the beginning of the program, the 99 who completed them and about 30 they could locate 18 months later.

"What we found was some really impressive stuff," he said. "Levels of depression went down, levels of anxiety went down, coping ability went up."

Part of the reason for the program's success is that it is intense and requires a commitment from those who enroll. They attend every day from 8: 15 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the eight weeks and must call in if they're not going to attend. "We do demand a certain level of responsibility when they're in the program," said program director Tom Trigg. "We ask them to treat it like a job."

Trigg said that when Cathedral House started, the emphasis was on job placement. "But we found out fairly quickly that without some grounding in spiritual matters, they lost their jobs and went back to their old ways fairly quickly."

So the staff started what they called a "spiritual dialogue," an open-ended discussion that had nothing to do with religious proselytizing.

"We basically talked about questions that are common to all humans," Trigg said. "Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Why did all these bad things happen to me? Is there a God? If God is all-loving, why did God allow this to happen to me?"

Asking the questions is more important that arriving at answers. "The spiritual path is what's important, not the destination," Trigg said.

While the first part of the program emphasizes spirituality, in the latter weeks the participants concentrate on finding employment. But not any job will do. After writing their resumes, the participants are encouraged to find work that uses their skills, pays well and offers benefits, all of which will help them to keep those jobs on a long-term basis.

"We don't want people working for a check," said James "Buddy" Jones, the assistant program director. "Anybody can get a job."

Jones is an example that people who come to Cathedral House can overcome their addictions. He is a graduate himself.

"I understand the feeling I had when I came through the door. The overwhelming fear I had," Jones said. "I don't know what happens. I can only tell you, something happens in this church basement."

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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