Eyewitness News is continuing its special initiative called “A Community in Pain.” We’re teaming up with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force to tackle the ongoing opioid epidemic here in the Tri-State area.

This week, the focus is on the many addicts who end up in prison and how programs try to help them.

Brad Byrd talks with Tony Metcalf of the organization Churches Embracing Offenders and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann about helping inmates who suffer from opioid addiction.

Transcript in interview:

Brad Byrd: “We continue our special Eyewitness News initiative “A Community in Pain.” We’re teaming up with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutors Office and the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force to tackle the ongoing opioid epidemic. This week — our focus is on where many addicts end up — behind bars. I’m joined tonight by Tony Metcalf of the organization “Churches Embracing Offenders,” also Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann. Tony, we were at the Vanderburgh County Jail today, where many of the inmates housed there exceed 700 inmates, suffer from some type of drug-related problem … possible addiction.  You can certainly identify. You’re now a minister. You’re working with inmates throughout the region, but many years ago you were in a very troubled part in your life.”

Tony Metcalf: “I was. I was an addiction in full-blown addiction. I’ve had my own run-ins with the law. But, you know, being actually caught up in the criminal justice system the way that I was, I got some opportunities to participate in some faith-based initiatives, as well as the therapeutic programs the Department of Corrections has to offer. And that whole experience was really life-changing for me. So, when I got out, I knew that the way that I was going to maintain that was to be able to give something back. I got involved with jail and prison ministry and through that became involved with Churches Embracing Offenders and now I have an opportunity to go back into the facilities and offer my own experience to the guys that are in there that really do want change and to show them that this is possible and I will be here with you the whole time if you want me to be. I’ll help you get out.”

Brad Byrd: “And Nick, there have been many “Tony’s” out there in the world but few who have been able to beat this like Tony has.  The message that people have to give to these offenders usually isn’t there because they don’t want to talk about it.  They push it aside. That call center that is set up in your office right now for this initiative, the people who are calling in, what advice are they being given, and are they pleading for help? What are they saying to those people who are behind those phones?”

Nick Hermann: “We have a lot of different individuals that are volunteering their time to come in and work those phone banks.  We had people tonight from Deaconess, from Southwestern, people from our office, and they’re answering a lot of different questions. What can I do? What can I do for a loved one?  What can I do with a case?  What can I do if I get caught and placed in the criminal justice system? We’re getting a lot of calls from people that are worried that they’re taking these drugs with a prescription, under doctor’s orders, but they’re concerned about will I become an addicted? You know, will this turn in to something else? What steps can I take to make sure that this doesn’t’t happen to me? You know, so we’re getting calls all the way across the board.”

Brad Byrd: “And that pretty much underlines too how this is spreading out and touching everybody here in the Tri-State in one form or another. Those individuals who are receiving legal prescribed painkillers for example from a doctor, the regulations have really tighten up on what they can do, and they’re having to really jump through some hoops now. So, it’s affecting them, people who legitimately need that medication. Tony, you got hooked in what way? This was not painkillers, right? This was just a fixation you told me with needles?” 

Tony Metcalf: “Well, I was a meth addict to begin with. But I became an IB drug user, and that becomes an addiction in itself. And I was limited to my drugs I used. It was just about anything I could put into a needle.” 

Brad Byrd: “Okay, and Nick, you’ve often talked about the resources that are here in Vanderburgh County. But earlier tonight, Tony, you said we have the resources, but we don’t have enough. How do you respond to that, Nick? And what can be done?” 

Nick Hermann: “We have a lot of great resources and a lot of great people working on this problem. But as Tony mentioned earlier, there’s not the capacity to do it wholesale. And there’s wait lists, and it takes time to get into programs. And that’s very difficult because when somebody says ‘I have an addiction … I want to work on this … I want to take steps to do better’, you need to act immediately. You need to get them into treatment right now. And there are wait lists at all of these programs. That makes it very difficult.” 

Brad Byrd: “Okay, and when you reached out, and it took you finally getting arrested basically.” 

Tony Metcalf: “It did.” 

Brad Byrd: “What did prison do for you?” 

Tony Metcalf: “It actually gave me an opportunity not to only recover, but it actually connected me with people who cared about who I was and what specially drove me to use in the first place. There’s a reason people are using. They’re hurting. They’re in pain. There’s some kind of trauma, or guilt, or shame, or fear that they have not developed the skills to cope with. And that coping comes with relationship and being able to talk about it with other people, and that was the thing that jail and prison ministry even the corrections treatment program gave to me was it gave me relationship with individuals that cared about what I was going through and gave me the tools that I needed once I got out to succeed.” 

Brad Byrd: “And of course, there are several resources we are talking about in this initiative, Nick, and some of these resources are available in this call center that’s being set up at your office. Next week, we’re going to be going to Bethel Church on Wednesday to look at an effort there follow by the final act, the county morgue, where this often ends up. But the prosecutorial part of this, the decision making into who you prosecute, who do you not prosecute, you’re getting tugged by two groups here.” 

Nick Hermann: “You get tugged by two groups, and also you’re limited by the resources you have available as far as treatment and those types of things. I was always a bit advocate … the Department of Corrections always has some great programs for dealing with substance abuse and these types of issues, and it used to be a great program for lower level offenders. When we did the lower level rewrite and put the Level 6 offenders in our county jails, we lost access to those. And so, that is an issue and something I’ve discussed with the sheriff and that we’re working on it is trying to bring more to our local county jail.” 

Brad Byrd: “Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann and Tony, thank you so much for being here tonight and continue success for what you’re doing. And we will continue to talk to you next week. Thank you so much.”

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(This story was originally published November 15, 2017)