Jason Dixon knew he was going back to Northward.

He’d been out of jail for a couple of months and had quickly fallen back into familiar habits. Unable to find steady work and struggling to deal with the daily frustrations of life, he turned, as he had so often in the past, to drugs and alcohol.

“I fell off the tracks, got back into using crack and smoking herb. I went back to drinking, then went back to stealing,” he remembers.

When he was caught after a break-in at the home of a police officer, he did not expect any second chances.It was a familiar cycle for Dixon, who has spent most of his adult life in and out of prison.

A resident reads a magazine at the Hope For Today Foundation, a transitional living facility for former addicts.
A resident reads a magazine at the Hope For Today Foundation, a transitional living facility for former addicts.

“I was back up for burglary and it was a police officer. I knew I was going to prison,” he says.

But by the grace of God and a good attorney, he says, he ended up, instead in the custody of the Hope for Today Foundation, sharing a home with other recovering addicts and substance abusers under the watchful eye of halfway house manager Brent Hydes.

That was eight months ago. He has been sober ever since and for the first time feels confident that he has a future that does not involve drugs, alcohol and crime.

“I have opened my heart up to God and I feel like a different person. When I look in the mirror, I see the person I knew when I was growing up, not the person I had become. I don’t have the urges for crack cocaine and ganja any longer.

“The support and friendship I have found in this house make me stronger and help me to stay on the right path.”

Literature at the the Hope For Today Foundation.
Literature at the the Hope For Today Foundation.

Dixon is one of seven people currently living at the halfway home in the Hell district of West Bay, which provides a temporary haven for recovering addicts. Some are referred by the courts, some by the parole board, others refer themselves. With Grand Cayman’s only male prison bursting at the seams, Mr. Hydes believes it could be time to rethink Cayman’s crime-and-punishment approach.

For Mr. Hydes, Jason Dixon’s story has a familiar ring to it. Around 25-30 people, many of them former inmates, all of them struggling with substance abuse, come through the home each year.

“It is amazing to see someone come here broken, bankrupt, and after a few months of recovery, they are laughing and smiling. The peace they find within themselves is absolutely amazing.”

They find basic accommodation in a safe, drug- and alcohol-free zone, away from the temptations of their old environment. They also find a place to quietly readjust to society, to find work and gain some economic independence after sometimes lengthy spells in jail.

“I have seen people come in here like Jason, like most residents, that have been completely broken. What pushes me to continue is hearing their stories,” said Mr. Hydes, reclining on a wooden chair on the balcony of the West Bay home.
There are no exceptions to the abstinence rule. It’s not about punishment, it’s about creating an environment where all the residents know the expectations, says Chris Burke, one of the Hope Foundation’s board members and a volunteer at the home. The reason it is effective, he believes, is it takes people away from the influences of their home environment.A zero-tolerance approach to substance abuse, reinforced by frequent urine tests and bolstered by weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are the core of the program.“It is amazing to see someone come here broken, bankrupt, and after a few months of recovery, they are laughing and smiling. The peace they find within themselves is absolutely amazing.”

“It is about every single person in the house and every person has to know that they are in a clean and safe living space. If we start to let that slide, it won’t work.”

Residents at the Hope For Today Foundation are responsible for all chores, including preparing meals and doing their own laundry. Currently there are seven people living at the halfway home in the Hell district of West Bay. – Photos: matt lamers
Residents at the Hope For Today Foundation are responsible for all chores, including preparing meals and doing their own laundry. Currently there are seven people living at the halfway home in the Hell district of West Bay. – Photos: matt lamers

Tony, another resident of the home, had battled for years with alcoholism, when finally, he decided he had had enough. Tony, like a number of other halfway house residents interviewed, asked for only his first name to be used.

“I bought six beers, drank half of one and gave away the rest,” he said. “I felt like everything around me was crumbling. I was sick of drinking, sick of myself, I felt like I was unemployable.”

“If I hadn’t called Brent, I might have just lasted a week. Being here means I can’t drink and I have to be in the program and I have the support of people who have been there and done that and stayed sober in some cases, for 20 or 30 years.

“It has been a 180-degree turnaround.”

The halfway house is funded entirely through community sponsors and fundraising events, like the “Walk for Recovery” and a recent series of “Legends” football matches.

A resident collects his laundry from a clothesline at the Hope For Today Foundation home in West Bay.
A resident collects his laundry from a clothesline at the Hope For Today Foundation home in West Bay.

The board is in “positive discussions” with government about possible grant aid, says Mr. Burke.

With the prison at capacity, Mr. Hydes believes greater emphasis could be put on programs like Hope for Today, which focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

“I bought six beers, drank half of one and gave away the rest,” he said. “I felt like everything around me was crumbling. I was sick of drinking, sick of myself, I felt like I was unemployable.”

The offenders at the home are principally those whose crimes were fueled by drug or alcohol addiction. Dealing with those underlying causes will make the community safer, he says.

With more funding, the home could deal with more prisoners, employ a full-time counselor or assist the residents with transportation.“It costs $70,000 to keep one person in prison for a year. We can run this house for less than that. If you look at the difference in those monies, it is beneficial to get involved.”“I can only put it to you like one of our neighbors put it, ‘I know there are people in this community that struggle with substance abuse issues and rather than them being on the road committing crimes, I’d rather they were here, where I know where they are and I know they are getting help.’

“We do want the residents to work for what they have. We are walking a line between making things possible for members of the house, while having them still work for it,” said Mr. Burke.

“I’m not going to say I like it, but I need it,” he says, “this is where I am supposed to be.”It’s a strict environment. But for residents like John, who have been through other recovery programs, it seems to work.

A zero-tolerance approach to substance abuse is the core of Hope for Today’s program.
A zero-tolerance approach to substance abuse is the core of Hope for Today’s program.

“I’ve been in and out of prison so much, the last time the judge didn’t know what to do with me. He gave me a chance to go to the halfway house and get my life together.For George, another current resident, a stint at the home has helped him get sober, get a job and start paying back the family and friends he let down in the days he was using drugs and alcohol.

“I bought six beers, drank half of one and gave away the rest,” he said. “I felt like everything around me was crumbling. I was sick of drinking, sick of myself, I felt like I was unemployable.

“I have got good people behind me now and I wouldn’t want to let them down for anything in the world.”

A sign of the home’s success, says Mr. Hydes, is that its former residents return on their recovery birthdays – the anniversary of the day they stopped drinking or taking drugs – to celebrate and offer words of advice.

Mr. Burke believes the community is also starting to appreciate it.

“When people first found out there was a halfway house coming to this neighborhood and that people generally had a criminal record, the feedback was generally negative. Now after three years, when we have a barbecue, the neighbors come over.”

The Clash of the Legends series of football matches have also attracted large crowds and corporate donors. An over-’40s select XI from George Town beat a team from West Bay in two separate games in February and March, raising $5,000 for the foundation in the process. Now teams from East End and Bodden Town are getting involved in the next matches, planned for May 23.

“By getting involved, people are sending a clear message that we are responsible for the people in our community and we must come together as a group and try to assist these individuals that are struggling with substance abuse,” says Mr. Hydes.

That kind of backing is crucial, he says.

“Without the community support and the private sector, this program would not survive.”

House manager Brent Hydes and Jason Dixon, a resident, feed one of the home's dogs. Around 25-30 people, many of them former inmates, all of them struggling with substance abuse, come through the home each year.
House manager Brent Hydes and a resident feed one of the home’s dogs. Around 25-30 people, many of them former inmates, all of them struggling with substance abuse, come through the home each year.
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