Substantially fewer African-Americans are being locked up in Georgia, a remarkable and historic change in a state that has long packed its prisons with disproportionate numbers of black offenders.
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Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.
The West Central Integrated Treatment Facility in Zebulon houses 138 women who have been diagnosed with both mental illness and drug addition.
All of the women had been convicted of felonies and had violated terms of their probation, making them likely candidates for a prison term. But before entering the state system, they were given one last shot and enrolled at the facility to get treatment for both their illnesses and addictions.
Many of the women previously had not been diagnosed with a mental illness and some had been misdiagnosed, said Fred Farrar, the program’s director. The most prevalent mental illnesses treated at the facility are major depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, he said.
During the initial phase of the three-phased program, the women undergo an orientation period and are put on the right medications. “It takes two to three months to stabilize most of them,” Farrar said.
Throughout their stay, the women attend self-awareness classes and peer accountability group sessions. They will also receive intensive counseling. By the time they leave, they will have a reentry plan with appointments already lined up to see doctors, counselors and probation officers. Some will enter drug court programs.
And from the start, the women must learn the treatment program’s “philosophy” and be able to recite it from memory when prompted, as they are often directed to do in unison by Superintendent Alfreta Dunn-Logan.
This recording was taken during the July 31 graduation ceremony of four women who completed the program, which was attended by family members, staff, probation officers and about 50 women still in the program. Before the presentation of diplomas, the women stood together and chanted:
”First, let us know these things:
“That our lives matter, because we are born with overflowing potential and because there are people who love us and who need our love;
“That we are not victims of circumstance, because every person can be greater in heart and mind than any circumstance;
“That to be free we must master our own habits, because they have held us hostage in fear and anger and have led us to do desperate things and commit thoughtless harm;
That we can be part of something greater than ourselves and thereby find the greatest part of ourselves;
“Then, let us do thesethings:
“Humble ourselves to learning, out of respect for our own potential and out of respect for those who teach us and the lessons they offer;
“Take courage against our fears and be steady in our efforts, so that what is waiting within us to grow can become strong and beautiful;
“Extend hands to each other and draw strength from each other, for the one who falls low can bring us all down unless we help her rise and the one who rises high can take us all higher if we strive together;
“And in all of this let us be guided by the Highest Power so that we may have love and honor as all humankind deserve and desire.”