Two years ago, Beverly Pars could be found every day on Eastern Avenue doing whatever she had to in order to keep up her drug habit. It took her to dark places both physically – she sometimes found herself in prison – and emotionally. She was ready to give up and almost ended her own life.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Ms. Pars said. Ultimately, she decided she had to change. She wanted to travel, to enjoy life. Most of all, she wanted to prove to herself and everyone else that she could not be defined by her addiction.
“I made up my mind that I wanted a better life,” she said.
With the help of the Bridge Foundation, Ms. Pars said, she now lives a better life every day.
The Bridge Foundation provides transitional housing for men and women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Residents of the foundation’s houses in West Bay – the Anchor House for men, and the Beacon House for women – like to call it their little piece of heaven off of Hell Road.
Since she came to the Bridge Foundation about a year ago, Ms. Pars has not only maintained her sobriety, but has become a role model to other residents, whom she now helps as the women’s house manager. She also has a job she loves at the Humane Society, and she feels like she has been given a chance to show the world “the real Beverly.”
She said that while addicts need to help themselves in order to change, it is difficult without the support of others or a safe environment to live in. “We need the community’s help, we need the community to get involved, and to give us a chance to get back into society,” she said.
Bud Volinsky came up with the idea to start a transitional housing program for recovering addicts in the Cayman Islands after he began volunteering at the local treatment center Caribbean Haven.
He noticed that once released, individuals who went through Caribbean Haven’s recovery programs were often “in front of the magistrate again and back up to Northward.”
“It was just the merry-go-round of recidivism,” he said.
Mr. Volinsky, who has a background in psychology and once worked in a prison, had hired many individuals from halfway houses to work in his construction business. He thought that a transitional house would be beneficial to society here.
Since its inception in 2013, the foundation has helped dozens of people maintain sobriety and successfully transition back into society. The foundation’s transition rate is up to 47 percent, above the international average which, according to Mr. Volinsky, is around 38 percent. Moreover, only eight out of the 59 individuals, just over 13 percent, who have come through the Bridge Foundation have reoffended. In comparison, 70 percent of people released from prison with untreated substance abuse issues reoffend.
According to a 2015 prison inspection report, nearly 13 percent of incarcerated people in the Cayman Islands are in prison for a drugs offense. Mr. Volinsky believes that drugs play a part in many more crimes than that, with individuals committing robberies or burglaries just to get money for their next fix. This belief is echoed in the National Anti-Drug Strategy 2009-2013, which states that many thefts, burglaries and acts of prostitution are committed by individuals who are trying to feed their addictions.
Prison can sometimes exacerbate the substance issues that are the root of criminal acts, as drugs are obtainable in prison and treatment programs are limited. According to the prison inspection report, 11 percent of prisoners said they developed a problem with illegal drugs while incarcerated, even though they did not have issues with illegal drugs before coming to prison.
Mr. Volinsky estimates that around 20 percent of Northward’s current population could be better served by transitional and rehabilitative houses, like the Bridge Foundation.
The foundation provides a safe, substance-free living space for up to 14 people at a time. Most residents stay between eight months and a year. Key to its success is the requirement that residents participate in a program that helps them to maintain their sobriety and to develop skills necessary to live independently and with economic security when they leave the home.
Residents must participate in a 12-step program-based lifestyle, meet with a sponsor and attend 12-step meetings five times weekly. Residents must also fulfill set requirements while they are in residence. They get IDs, bank accounts, become registered with the National Workforce Development Agency, meet with a counselor, complete certain chores and attend a weekly house meeting.
“We’ve become a family,” Mr. Volinsky said. “We’ve become the nucleus of recovery in West Bay, and an attraction now for people who want recovery. They see the success stories that come [out] of here.”
Success on a shoestring
The foundation has the patronage of Governor Helen Kilpatrick, and the support of a dedicated advisory committee and board of directors. Advisory committee members include Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Orrett “OC” Connor, Brigitte Kirkconnell-Shaughness, Sophia Harris, Neil Lavis, Sara Collins, Katrina Jurn and former resident Jack McLean.
“People of this seniority and prominence do not assent to having their names connected to a charity unless they are convinced of the good it does and that it is in dedicated, safe, competent hands,” said Charles Jennings, the co-founder, director and company secretary for the Bridge Foundation.
Several branches of government, including the prisons, Governor’s office, drugs court, Caribbean Haven Residential Centre and the Department of Counselling Services refer individuals to the foundation.
“The government, and hence the public, enjoys a huge cost benefit from having them accommodated by us rather than incarcerated,” Mr. Jennings said.
The foundation needs about $15,000 a year per person. In comparison, it costs $69,000 a year to keep a person at Northward prison.
However, obtaining the funds necessary to maintain operations at the Bridge Foundation is always a challenge, Mr. Volinsky said. The program receives $60,000 from the government annually, but needs about $210,000 a year to operate.
“We just make it month to month, sometimes it’s down to $30 and a miracle happens, and they are miracles,” Mr. Volinsky said. The Bridge Foundation wants to expand, since it is currently at capacity, but cannot until funding is more stable.
While looking for more funding, the Bridge Foundation is also developing programs to become more self-sustaining. For example, the residents built a chicken coop with scrap materials, got a few laying hens and now have fresh eggs. They have also built a garden and pumpkin patch, growing herbs and vegetables like callaloo, peppers, and melons to eat and sell.
One resident, a carpenter by trade, carves and sells cups and serving dishes out of coconut shells, and some of the women make jewelry with beads that have been donated.
A business plan is currently being developed to start a fishing operation, utilizing a donated boat. But the most successful venture so far has been a coconut oil enterprise, spearheaded by resident Michael Clive Jackson, called “Big Mike” by everyone who knows him.
Mr. Jackson has been living at the Bridge Foundation for almost two years. He is now clubhouse manager and helps prepare meals for residents.
He said he has struggled with alcohol addiction for 45 years. So strong was his addiction that he sometimes drank rubbing alcohol. “I had a lot of pain and I didn’t want to deal with anything,” Mr. Jacks
on said. “I didn’t trust no one. I hid all of my pain inside and I didn’t know that I could feel different.”
His addiction cost him dearly, causing health problems which make it difficult for him to work. It also destroyed relationships with family members and friends. It took a heavy toll on his psyche as well, and he tried to commit suicide three times.
“I got to a point that I felt no one wanted me around on account of my alcoholism,” Mr. Jackson said.
One night, after consuming three 40 ounce bottles of Appleton rum that day, he was in a car accident and arrested.
“I was so afraid,” Mr. Jackson said. “This is the first time in my life that I had anything to do with policemen.”
Terrified at the prospect of going to jail, and feeling, finally, like he might be ready to commit to change, Mr. Jackson asked a resident at the Bridge Foundation what he should do. After detoxing at Caribbean Haven, and agreeing to a judge’s order of community service and counseling, he became a Bridge Foundation resident.
It was a difficult transition, but with the help and patience of Mr. Volinsky, Mr. Jackson said he learned how to be responsible for himself.
“He put up with my foolishness,” Mr. Jackson said. “He lifts me up, tells me when I’m doing a good job and listens to me when something is wrong.” Mr. Volinsky encouraged Mr. Jackson’s coconut oil enterprise, helping him mechanize part of the process, setting it up as a separate business entity and finding a distributor.
Mr. Jackson grew up on a rural farm in Honduras, with no electricity or other modern conveniences. To survive, he and his family made coconut oil to sell. His mother taught him the painstaking process, which involves shucking hundreds of coconuts by hand with a machete, then fermenting, straining and heating to produce the oil. At the Foundation, residents bring him coconuts or help strain the coconut pulp.
Mr. Jackson’s oil was discovered by a volunteer, Pam Champoux, who now distributes it under her Couxcoux Oil brand.
The venture has boosted Mr. Jackson’s confidence, and helps to keep him from straying off the path to recovery. He hopes he can pay it forward, and give back to others who are struggling with addiction.
“I sit around here just hoping for people to come in,” Mr. Jackson said. “I want to be there for someone in need.”