By Simone Greene
Building a Bridge out of the Criminal Justice System and Into Recovery
Bridges of Iowa Inc. grew from parents’ love for son and has become a lifeline to thousands of Iowans struggling with substance use disorders. Founded 20 years ago by Donald and Charlene Lamberti, Bridges is a long-term program that treats the entire person, complementing intense addiction treatment and cognitive behavior change therapy with the life skills necessary for success.
With its mission statement, “We Invite You to a Better Life,” Bridges helps men and women from all walks of life and economic situations. Working with a dedicated array of public and private partners, the program is unique in its collaboration with the Polk County Sheriff. The Bridges residential program is housed in the West Wing of the Polk County Jail. However, clients are not incarcerated when they enter Bridges. In fact, Bridges refers to and treats clients as guests. “We want you to be here and we treat you as we would treat a guest in our home, with dignity and respect,” says Angie Rodberg, director of clinical operations.
The program is long-term and comprises three distinct phases.
The first phase is highly structured, supervised residential treatment that consists of group therapy, one-on one counseling, health and wellness, community service and traditional support groups including AA, NA, SMART Recovery, and Celebrate Recovery.
The middle phase entails clients taking on more responsibility and accountability while also gaining more freedom. In this phase Bridges helps clients with resumes, interviewing skills and transportation, which are all major barriers to successful change. The program partners with local employers to help clients find jobs and maintain employment. Trust accounts are established to help clients manage their money, pay fines and fees, and save money.
The final phase involves transitioning to safe, independent housing where they continue to receive outpatient treatment consisting of weekly group therapy sessions, monthly individual counseling sessions and compliance with weekly random drug screens.
Understanding that addiction affects the entire family, Bridges of Iowa involves them in treatment as much as possible. Through a partnership with St. Vincent de Paul, Bridges offers family sessions where clients learn about healthy relationships and communication skills.
“Bridges graduates are the proof that substantiates what the U.S. Surgeon General and Iowa Governor’s Office Drug Control Policy have found and continue to prescribe: ‘long-term community-based treatment works,’” said Patrick Coughlin, executive director of Bridges of Iowa. “It only makes sense.”
Graduation celebrations are held every other month, and graduates are invited to join the Alumni Association, where support continues through meetings and events including Thanksgiving dinners, recreational activities and cookouts. The Alumni offer hope to new graduates and also play a major role in graduations ceremonies as they welcome newly minted grads to the other side.
Alumna Aisha Ewald has been in recovery for six years. She was facing as much as 155 years in prison when she turned to a judge and asked for help. “Your honor I suck at life, I need help.”
He gave her Bridges. Today, she’s married, caring for her family and working as a general manager. Aisha was so moved by her experience at Bridges that she became the president of the Alumni Association. “I never knew that recovery could be so joyous. I don’t look at anything as a hopeless situation anymore. Bridges was the beginning of a journey.”
The stories of Aisha and other graduates are music to the ears of Don Lamberti, who describes Bridges as his calling.
Bridges of Iowa was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
Simone Greene works to highlight best practices and innovators in the field of addiction through her work at Addiction Policy Forum. Prior to joining, she was a project coordinator for The Moss Group, a correctional consulting firm based in Washington, DC. She received her master’s degree in Forensic and Legal Psychology from Marymount University.