By Mark Powell
Recovery Social Circles
The transition from prison to the community can be rough. Freedom brings more problems than most of us imagine, including increased chances for drug misuse. The Wilmington Hope Commission Winner’s Circle understands successful reentry involves as much support as possible.
The Hope Commission is a nine-to-twelve month program that coincides with probation. It assists individuals coming home from prison with resources that include housing and job readiness and prepares them to be self-dependent.
The Winner’s Circle is a vitally important aspect of that program. “These guys coming home go through a lot,” says peer support specialist Kontal Copeland. “They may not have someone to talk to in their circle of friends or someone who has been where they are.” Having been incarcerated himself, Copeland fully understands the challenges.
Unlike many other groups, Winner’s Circle has no curriculum. It’s a therapeutic group and is open to the public. The only requirement to attend is that each participant must have been formerly incarcerated. The hour-long session is offered every Friday.
About 20 people typically attend each Winner’s Circle meeting. It’s an intimate gathering with participants sitting in a circle. Some men know each other from the streets and previous incarceration. Others are acquainted as neighbors. That personal connection is an essential ingredient in the Winner’s Circle success, especially for men who are tempted to misuse drugs because of stress.
Many have a history of drug use; because they’re on probation, they could go back to jail for using. “We’re upfront with them,” Copeland says. “We don’t sugarcoat it. We talk freely about drugs and all their problems. It reminds them that they’re not alone. It also gives them coping options. People tend to really open up in this group. Sometimes, you may even see tears.”
Wilmington Hope Commission holds a ceremony every July for those who’ve completed the program.
Notable community members attend the ceremony. Copeland says graduates frequently return to Winner’s Circle meetings to tell their stories or for support. The Commission also follows up with program graduates at the 30, 60, and 180-day points.
“One guy that I knew on the streets came through the program,” remembers Copeland. “He was still struggling with his addiction. He found help here. Now he’s working at a major hospital. We helped him to get the job. It’s a job he wouldn’t normally have access to. Seeing his transition is great. It’s so gratifying to see where people are in life now.”
Wilmington Hope Commission Winner’s Circle was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.