Pubdate: Tue, 30 Dec 2003
Source: News & Advance, The (VA)
Copyright: 2003 Media General
Author: Bill Freehling


As a seven-time prisoner and drug addict, Marcellus Curtis Moss knows a 
thing or two about how illegal drugs flow into prisons.

The 39-year-old Lynchburg man is now serving time at Virginia's Deep Meadow 
Correctional Center. He doesn't want to give specifics on how drugs get in, 
but he says it usually works something like this:

An inmate sends a money order from his prison account to his girlfriend. 
She buys his drug of choice and bribes a correctional officer - whom Moss 
says is often poor and uneducated - to bring it inside.

"Money in thier hand if the price is right is definitely a sure shot," Moss 
wrote in a letter from Deep Meadow. "In prison you have some of the most 
cunning and manipulative people that exist."

Some say that environment makes it difficult for addicts to get better in 

"We're not curing the problem," said Halifax resident Crystel Holbein, 
whose son is serving an 87-month federal sentence for methamphetamine 
possession. "We are warehousing the problem. They're still drug addicts 
when they get out."

That doesn't mean prisons are turning a blind eye.

Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), 
said there are policies to combat narcotics. Visitors and employees - 
particularly those suspected of bringing drugs in - are closely screened. 
Cells are searched, urine tests are given and offenders are punished.

Further, many federal and state prisons offer long-term treatment programs. 
But money is limited, and the number of drug offenders keeps going up.

Just 13 percent of the U.S. inmates needing substance abuse treatment got 
it in 1999, according to a publication of the American Society of Addiction 
Medicine (ASAM), and about 60 percent of untreated drug offenders are 
re-arrested within their first year out.

The United States incarcerates more inmates than any other country - the 
total passed 2 million in 2000 - and drug offenders swell the ranks.

About 65 percent of the 1998 incarcerated population used drugs at least 
once a week for more than a month before their arrest, according to the 
ASAM. Drug-offending federal inmates - there were about 70,000 in 2002 - 
have made up a majority of the total federal prison population since 1990.

In Virginia, 24 percent of the new inmates in fiscal year 2001 - 2,279 - 
had drug convictions listed as their primary offense. That doesn't count 
the many people who broke drug laws while committing crimes considered 
"more serious" by the VDOC.

Some drug offenders are ordered to complete community-based treatment 
programs. If they do so successfully, some time is knocked off their 
sentences - which makes the programs a popular option.

Dr. K. LeGree Hallman, medical director of Lynchburg's Courtland Center, 
which houses three residential drug treatment programs, said he could fill 
up the facility with inmates.

But with non-incarcerated drug addicts seeking help from 60 miles away, 
state budget woes causing funding cuts, and just 23 beds available for each 
28-day residential program, there isn't space.

"That leaves the people in the system out in the cold," Hallman said.

Moss, a cocaine addict for 20 years, is one of those people. Earlier this 
year, he failed a drug screen, which violated his probation from a petit 
larceny conviction. Circuit Court Judge Mosby Perrow III recommended 
Hallman's Arise treatment program for Moss, which gave him hope.

"I would like to use this as a springboard," Moss said at the Lynchburg 
Adult Detention Center. He said he'd like to complete the 28-day program 
and then spend a year at The Gateway, a Lynchburg halfway house for 
recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.

Despite repeated letters and calls to Arise, Moss was unable to get in. 
Instead, he said, he's in an environment where heroin quietly passes 
through, and where few want to discuss anything but how they won't get 
caught next time.

Substance abuse treatment isn't a guaranteed solution, however, and many 
inmates go through rehab just to cut their sentences short.

Hallman said about 10 percent of Arise first-timers stay clean. The numbers 
improve with each rehabilitation stint. Moss once completed a six-month 
program in prison, but he went back to drugs soon after his release.

The threat of returning to prison is enough to keep some, including 
39-year-old Lynchburg man Henry Ruben Nelson II, clean. Nelson has served 
almost two years of a seven-year sentence for methamphetamine possession at 
a Petersburg federal prison.

"It's showed me that this is not the life," said Nelson, who adds that he 
could buy any drug he wanted in the Petersburg prison. "It's not worth it 
to me. I'll never touch another drug in my life."

Prison doesn't have the same effect on others.

"These people have been there, done that, and they've figured out it's not 
that bad," said Rich Mosure, who runs the Arise residential program.

Nelson can knock about a year off his sentence by completing a nine-month 
drug rehabilitation program run by the Bureau of Prisons. He plans to do it 
closer to his release time.

But Moss said he needs to learn how to stay drug-free in the non-structured 
environment of real life. Otherwise, he said, he's likely to end up back in 
prison an eighth time.

"I only pray that my drug addiction is addressed before I re-enter society 
because I'm sick and need proffessional help," he wrote.
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