Monday, 22 November 2010

It's 6.15am aboard Flight number VS022 from Dullas airport, Washington D.C., to London, Heathrow

I’m visiting The McShin Foundation here in Richmond, Virginia on the very last stage of my Winston Churchill 2010 Fellowship Recovery Tour of the states. Over the last four days John Shinholser, Founder and President, and Carol McDaid, his wife, who is a board member and former-chair of Faces and Voices of Recovery, have been looking after me and showing me how John manages to offer a first class peer-support recovery service without receiving a penny in public funding.

Since McShin Foundation’s humble beginnings, when he relied almost exclusively on friends in recovery and their families, the organization has grown to include a 35-bed recovery housing programme that hosts more than 2,000 support meetings each year. Because the McShin Foundation is self-funded, John has adopted innovative fundraising strategies and, through them, he has been able to attract a diverse set of benefactors. Over the past 3 years, their annual revenue has averaged $500,000.

McShin Foundation has certified more than 150 recovery coaches – and they did it their way, the recovery way. Additionally, they’ve succeeded in attracting more than 7,000 to their annual Recovery Fest, an event celebrating recovery from substance use that takes place every September, during Recovery Month.

They’ve also impacted decision-making and policy at the local, State, and national levels through outreach and advocacy conducted by PIRs (People In Recovery) and their allies. In Virginia, lawmakers on a joint subcommittee studying strategies and models for substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery, approved some of the Foundation’s recommendations, including:

• Developing and implementing a voucher model at various treatment and recovery service provider sites;

• Fostering learning about current recovery community organizations, continuing to fund their successful programmes, and developing new ones; and,

• Exploring reimbursement options for autonomous recovery community organizations.

As John told me, “Any group of people committed to their recovery can create and sustain a truly localized recovery community organization, as we’ve done.”

John’s verve, notwithstanding his passion for recovery and his drive have played their parts too, I would suggest, not to mention his astute, business acumen.

John took me to meet the Sheriff of Henrico County, Michael Wade, who commands one of the largest sheriff’s offices in the Commonwealth with over 361 sworn and civilian staff. Sheriff Wade’s primary role is to provide security for Henrico’s two regional jails, security for the county’s two county’s two courthouses and fourteen Judges.
Sheriff Wade is the remarkable man who created and introduced the R.I.S.E programme (Recovery In a Secure Environment) into the Henrico County’s two Regional Jails. We called to see him at his home as he’d just a few days earlier undergone a knee replacement operation. (He’s recovering well, incidentally.)

The R.I.S.E program’s history dates back to August 15, 2000 when a men’s 20-bed
Community, based on the Social Learning Model of recovery, was started at Henrico
County Regional Jail, East.

Since that time, the program has grown into seven communities at Jail East and one community at Henrico County Jail (Jail West).

The model for the R.I.S.E program has changed since the beginning, but it is still based on principles that include social learning theory, the 12-step philosophy, and Cognitive-Behavioural strategies. More simply, the program provides tools for recovery and fosters self-esteem and self-efficacy (the belief that a person can make his/her life better).

Each community within the R.I.S.E program, with the leadership of appointed Advisors and guidance by Mental Health and Sheriff’s Office, implements and monitor its schedule, programming, and rules. Mental Health/Substance Abuse staff develops, revise, and monitor all components of the recovery program. Mental Health has ultimate responsibility for insuring the general content and direction of each community.

The entire R.I.S.E program is completely voluntary, which means participants may only enter through their own choice and can leave the program at any time through their own choice. Programming in all communities is seven days a week with a reduced schedule on the weekends.

“Prisoners are much more cooperative and less prone to violence and antisocial behaviour since we’ve introduced the programme,” Sheriff Wade told me. “And, instead of sitting around all day doing nothing, they are now actively engaged in their recoveries. Their quality of life has improved immeasurably as a consequence.”

I was privileged to be invited to address over 150 women prisoners and over 250 male prisoners on the following day, 18th November, at the Henrico County Regional Jail East. It was an experience I shall never forget – primarily, because of the obvious enthusiasm they displayed (especially the women) towards their newfound recoveries, and the new hope and purpose this remarkable R.I.S.E. programme had instilled in their lives.

Later, the same day, John Shinholser, invited me to talk to PIRs at the McShin Foundation. I talked to them about the importance of accepting our humanness, and how I needed to confront the burden of being human by becoming a risk-taker. That’s an ongoing challenge I have to face every day, incidentally!

That same evening, John took me to an NA Open Fellowship meeting. It was one of the biggest meetings I’ve seen in a long time. I listened, for a change! The theme of this discussion meeting was ‘Slogans, and how they are misinterpreted’. It’s amazing how we misconstrue ‘One day at a Time’, ‘Easy does it’, Let go and Let God’, etc. to justify our inaction and lack of forward planning.

The concept of anonymity is another one we often misinterpret and, as a result, the Fellowships, unless we’re careful, are in danger of becoming invisible.

On 19th November, John drove me to nearby Caroline County to meet Anthony G. “Tony” Spencer, Caroline County Commonwealth’s District Attorney.

Tony and John are collaborating in order to solve a criminal justice problem that’s facing Caroline County and all other American rural communities: prison population is increasing year on year, as is the cost. The solution, they expect, will show measurable success in the first year and every year thereafter. They expect also to generate enough savings in jail, probation and other costs to be able to sustain and expand their plan.

Under their plan, they will find defendants who are good candidates for recovery and reintegration into their communities, and Tony will offer them an alternative to conviction and jail. By using a carrot-and-stick approach - the first four or five times a participant relapses, he or she will not be removed from the programme. Instead, his bond will be revoked temporarily, and he will go to jail, one week for the first relapse, two weeks for the second, and so on - they expect to see about 50% of them succeed. To sustain and expand their plan will require half of the money they will be saving in the cost of imprisonment, pre-trial and probation supervision, and court-ordered treatment.

Defendants charged with serious violent felonies, such as rape, armed robbery and murder, will not be eligible.

Tony hopes to see a dramatic drop in crime and an increase in the quality of life.

I was later taken on a tour of the old and new courthouses and enjoyed a pleasant lunch with both of these dedicated men. I am conscious of the fact that it takes just one man with a vision to make a difference. In this case we have two of them! And they need just $55,000 as a one-off investment to get the programme up and running.

John and Carol have not only opened their home to me these past few days but also their hearts. This was the perfect end to my Fellowship Recovery Tour. And the weather’s been perfect too! Last night (Saturday) we all enjoyed a recovery get-together of smoked turkey and barbequed tender-loin of beef at Daniel and Mckenzie Paine’s home. All evening 9 of us PIRs played games, chatted, laughed and reminisced whilst 5 little-ones entertained themselves in the adjoining room. We needed no alcohol or drugs to enjoy ourselves, just fine fellowship and that special sense of gratitude that always accompanies recovery.

I’m writing these last few sentences as I near Heathrow airport, London. It’s 6.15am aboard Flight number VS022 from Dullas airport, Washington. Sitting next to me is a young lawyer, Mohsin, who’s been keeping me company on the long flight home. He tells me, after listening to some of my tales, that he’s now considering applying for a Winston Churchill Fellowship next year!

I’ll be preparing a report on my Recovery Tour and also a video diary which, I hope, will capture some of the magnificent experiences I’ve encountered on this life-changing tour.

I’d also like to thank the following principles for their kindnesses to me: Phil Valentine CCAR (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery), Mark Ames (Vermont Recovery Network Coordinator), Dr Arthur Evans and Professor Roland Lamb, CBH/MRS (City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioural Health & Mental Retardation Services), Pat Taylor (Faces and Voices of Recovery, Washington, D.C.), and John Shinholser and Carol McDaid (The McShin Foundation, Richmond, Virginia).

And a special thanks to William (Bill) White for his advice and for inspiring the Recovery Tour, and to Cheryle Pacapelli, Director of Operations at CCAR and Jennifer Sears, DBH/MRS Special Projects Co-ordinator, for helping me plan my itinerary.

I’d also like to wish Peter Rainford, (another Churchill Fellow) for his input into my Recovery Tour, and for his friendship and support. I’ve got a funny feeling I’m going to be seeing a lot of Peter!

Thanks all of you who’ve followed my blogs over the past two months. I’ve appreciated greatly your comments and your support.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Trustees of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I hope that, by the time my report is presented, I will have done justice to the great man’s memory.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

I told him that he’d been spared, most probably, so that he could carry an important message to someone. “What led to the relapse” I asked.

Did you spot the deliberate mistake in my last Churchill Fellowship blog? Of course you did! It was Abraham Lincoln and not George Washington who was assassinated at the Ford Theatre on 16th April! And it was the same Abraham Lincoln, who served as the 16th President of the United States, who successfully led the country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserved the Union, and ended slavery.

I spent today, 15th November, at the Maryland State-wide Community Forum in the historical town of Annapolis. The Forum, organised by Faces and Voices of Recovery, was intended to highlight instances of discrimination towards individuals in or seeking long-term recovery.

This was the first of four forums that are being held around the country. And Faces and Voices audio-taped the event in order to write a report, using the PIRs’ stories, in order to help educate policymakers and others about changes that need to be made to address these issues and remove barriers.

During the morning session we heard 21 PIRs testify to 4 members of a listening panel, as well as to a packed audience made up of other PIRs (including family members, friends, and allies), professionals and community leaders in the addiction field, business community leaders, representatives from the criminal justice system, and elected officials and policy makers.

The stigmas and/or discriminations highlighted ranged from:

The practise of turning people with co-occurring issues and with no obvious means of support from psychiatric hospitals, out onto the streets. Cindy demanded, “This practise has to change.” This had happened to Cindy’s son 5 years ago resulting in his suicide 2 days later. Cindy identified with what Paul Newman had said following the death of his own son from a similar drugs overdose, “Things change….but you never get over it.”

Then there was Rebecca, who is in her 7th year of recovery, but had been imprisoned for 2 years in 2002 for committing an armed robbery. Like an albatross, this felony had hung around her neck and had made it very difficult for her to find a job of any significance, even though she had changed her life around completely.

Thankfully, Rebecca is now in a worthwhile job (she works for her local church that increased her wages 18% after 12 months) and is studying for a degree at college. But only because her present employer and the university dean were so impressed by her ability and personality that they were prepared to take a risk and put their faith and trust in her.

Unlike Rebecca, the vast majority of PIRs are consigned to do menial, worthless jobs – if they’re lucky. Rebecca’s husband is currently in this unenviable position - his life, seemingly, blighted forever because of a brief aberration, albeit criminal act committed during his early years of addiction.

Rebecca’s heartfelt plea was this: “Addiction is a family and community problem. Please make it a family and community solution.”

Similarly, Anna’s husband had applied for a job in the Fire Department. He was not given the job because of his drug history.

Carol was concerned about the stigma endured by children of alcoholics, even when a parent or parents are in recovery. “These children” she said, “live under ‘no talking’, ‘no feeling’, ‘no thinking’ family rules. They need outside help from specially trained child-care professionals, teachers, etc to teach them how to communicate.

Carol’s own sister died 2 years ago. She died, not from any addiction, but because she couldn’t come to terms with the experiences she’d gone through as a child of an alcoholic.

Robert identified the familiar stigma of “You just could have said ‘no’!” I encountered this stigma myself recently during a BBC Radio Wales interview with the columnist Peter Hitchens from the Mail on Sunday. Addiction to him didn’t exist!

And Wanda felt her daughter was being discriminated against by members of NA, AA and some treatment facilitators because she was receiving medicated-assisted treatment. Indeed, she was once asked to leave an NA meeting because she was deemed to be in active addiction. She also lost her job recently because she tested positive.

According to Donald, access to affordable housing subsidised by the federal government was impossible if you had a criminal conviction. “You’re ineligible”, he said “if either you or a member of your family has a criminal history.” And, of course, the non availability of adequate affordable housing is one of the biggest barriers to recovery.

And so on, and so on. It was a fascinating morning’s session. It’s quite remarkable the power these PIRs exercise when they’re given a voice.

Interestingly, one member of the listening panel was Peter Gaumond, newly appointed chief of the White House Recovery Branch Office of National Drug Control Policy. Yes! Even the White House now has a Recovery branch!

Peter will be responsible for reviewing laws, regulations and policies in the context of the new recovery agenda. As he said, “The culture of recovery used to mean AA recovery. Now, it’s more diverse. And all the energy is coming from the recovery community itself.”

I read in USA TODAY, the daily rag here in America, that the makers of FOUR LOKO, a caffeinated alcoholic drink with an alcohol content of 12%, comparable to five beers and the caffeine equivalent of 5 cups of coffee, has agreed to stop shipments to New York state.

The popular drinks, which comes in several varieties, including fruit punch and blue raspberry, has already been banned in Washington, Michigan, Utah and Oklahoma. This follows reports of several college students being hospitalised after drinking the stuff. The drinks are no longer available in New Jersey either, after one school banned them! And as I arrive in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the McShin Foundation a non-government-funded Recovery Centre, I hear that it’s been banned here as well.

It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which some in the drinks industry will go in order to entrap youngsters into the Hell of addiction.

On Sunday morning I took two Double Decker tours of Washington. The red route took in all the Capital’s main national and civic buildings and monuments and the yellow route concentrated, in the main, on the key hotels. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to get too close to the White House. Besides, Obama was away on a tour of India.

Jean Walker, a volunteer who accompanied Pat Taylor, Executive Director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, and me to the Forum in Annapolis, said that Barrack Obama was being unfairly picked-on by the media and, in particular, by Fox News. “They criticise Obama because he’s can’t walk on water”, she said. “And if he did, they’d say it’s because he can’t swim!”

Most of my Sunday afternoon was spent in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. American history is such a fascinating subject. I wish I had more time to spend here in Washington to absorb some more of its richness and diversity.

I met with two very interesting people on Monday morning, 16th November; Paul Malloy, Chief Executive Officer of Oxford House, Inc., the self-run, self-supported Addiction Recovery Houses, and Johnny Allem, a consultant who has done most things in the recovery field and is driving the DC Recovery Community Alliance, a group of people from all walks of life who want to change the way the District addresses alcohol and other drug prevention, addiction, and treatment.

I thank them for their time and for their stories – in particular Paul Malloy, who has a gift for storytelling and who kept me enthralled for the 90 minutes I spent in his company.

Oxford House is a concept in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. In its simplest form, an Oxford House describes a democratically run, self-supporting and drug free home.

Here are some of Paul’s comments:

“The only time we’re going to stay clean and sober is when we have a good time staying clean and sober.”

“The common bond that kept us together in a half-way house was fighting authority, lights out at 10pm, for example. We fought this rule like crazy. In an Oxford House, the us/them thing had gone, we were now running the show ourselves.”

“A survey showed that 1,200 people had gone through our houses – and the big surprise was that 80% were still clean and sober.”

“From the outset we decided that we weren’t going to own any property, and we were not going to fight over money.”

“When you mix the “has-beens” with the “never-weres” you get the perfect mix: a really integrated house.”

Thanks also to Pat Taylor and Faces and Voiced of Recovery for their wonderful hospitality, and for arranging so efficiently and successfully the Washington part of my Churchill Fellowship.

I’m currently being entertained and spoilt by John Shinholser, Founder and President of the McShin Foundation in Richmond, Virginia. You’ll get to hear more abut this Centre and the wonderful work they do here in my next blog.

I want to tell you about Bill Mac, thought, before I finish today. I met Bill, a licensed substance abuse and treatment practitioner, over a coffee a few hours ago. Bill relapsed after 27 years in recovery. He was at a loss to know why he’d been spared and given another chance. “Most people in long-term recovery die when they relapse”, he said.

I told him that he’d been spared, most probably, so that he could carry an important message to someone. “What led to the relapse” I asked.

“The boundaries between my own recovery and my work as a counsellor became blurred. The latter became more important to me than my own recovery.” he said. “I also became lazy and complacent. I thought I was sorted and could just sit back and relax. Then I had an injury and had to take medication to deal with the pain. I thought I could handle the drugs. I couldn’t and they let to my relapse.”

“That’s the message I and others in long-term recovery needed to hear, Bill”, I said. “And if you hadn’t survived, I would never have heard it.”

So thank you Bill, for giving the kind of giving that has no price-tag on it – the giving of oneself to someone. And that ‘someone’ today was me.

I’m listening to … music tonight! I’m staying in John’s home and the conversation between us is taking precedence tonight.

Nos dawch pawb A diolch am ddarllen y blog. Good night everyone. And thanks for reading my blog.

By the way, pretty soon there’ll be information about our Love and Forgiveness Retreat in Trefeca College, Brecon, between 3rd & 5th December. I believe we have room for a further 4 people. If you’re interested, please contact us at

Our objectives are as follows:

• To create an environment to promote recovery and healing from alcoholism and other addictive illnesses for People in Recovery (PIRs), their families and friends;
• To help identify the issues that prevent people from living life to the fullest;
• To create positive lifestyles through personal responsibility and the release of emotional baggage.

We have attempted to cover every aspect of the weekend for your enjoyment and satisfaction. Our desire is to ensure also that the weekend is inclusive and does not isolate anyone, offend or cause any obstacles.

It is our prayer that this weekend is another landmark and stepping stone in your life’s journey. We hope it is inspirational, challenging and the utmost in fine fellowship. If there is anything that we can help you with over the weekend please do not hesitate to ask and we will do all we can to assist.

We ask you to keep an open mind, relax and enjoy the weekend.

This will be a small retreat of 20 people with the emphasis on love and forgiveness. It’ll be about learning new ways of living and putting the past behind you and living in the present. One of the biggest challenges of living is to live in the now – often guilt and shame from the past and anxiety for the future can leave us stuck in the present.

Good night. Nos dawch.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

An idea for the world

As I thank Jennifer, Arthur, Roland, Sade Ali and all the dedicated and passionate staff at the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioural Health & Mental Retardation Services (DBH/MRS) and all the various programme providers, recovery coaches, counsellors and, most importantly, the PIRs themselves, for their incredible welcome and endless kindnesses to me during my two weeks stay in Philadelphia, here’s an idea for the world, courtesy of Dr Roland Lamb:

“I’d like to share with you an idea - an idea for the world.

A message of recovery (as we understand it in the field of addiction) is a message for everyone.

In regard to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, for example, all have a recovery focus - a focus that allows people to be in support of each other; to support their mutual recoveries. A support, that extends beyond the treatment, and the doctor; that goes beyond the hospital intervention; and beyond even the medication.

I would like to suggest that we, all of us, get together to begin to talk about a universal concept of recovery - and principles of recovery that extend beyond the use of drugs; beyond the use of alcohol - to the overall population across the world.”


Incidentally, it doesn’t take new money to introduce such a concept – just a willingness to change our attitudes! And don’t let us ever, ever think we cannot change and improve!

I’ve now arrived in Washington D. C. Today I’ve spent sightseeing. I left my hotel room at 8am this morning and I’ve just now returned a few minutes ago at 8.45pm.

Did you know that George Washington had a secretary names Kennedy who tried to dissuade him from going to the Ford Theatre on the night he was assassinated? And, did you know that John F. Kennedy had a secretary names Washington who tried to dissuade him from visiting Dallas where he was assassinated? Funny old world isn’t it!

Tomorrow, bright and early at 7.30am, I’m being collected from my hotel by Pat Taylor, Executive Director of Faces & Voices of Recovery, and we’ll be travelling to Annapolis to attend a state-wide community forum on Recovery.

Faces &Voices’ goals, incidentally, are to celebrate and honour recovery in all its diversity; to foster advocacy skills in the tradition of American advocacy movements; and to produce principles, language, strategy and leadership to carry the movement forward.

And judging from what I’ve witnessed recently, I’d say they’ve been doing a pretty good job of it!

Right, I’m off to bed.

What music am I listening tonight? Will Young, singing ‘Changes’!

And I’ve bought another book. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. My excuse? Well, the relation of personal morality to political morality, and the way some people try to separate the two, intrigues me greatly.

Yes, I did get to a meeting – and shared. I also attended two Catholic Church services – and I’m no Catholic! And last night I enjoyed the most fantastic and expensive T-bone steak. As my old sponsor used to tell me, “Be good to yourself, Wynford. You’re worth it!”

Sleep tight everyone. Nos dawch. Cysgwch yn dawel.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I was confronted by a sight I will not forget for as long as I live

“People in recovery have a real understanding of what it means to struggle to be OK as opposed to what it means to struggle to seem OK.”

One of the many insightful sayings that punctuated my conversation over dinner this evening (Tuesday 9th November) with, Roland Lamb, Director of the Office of Addiction Services in the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioural Health & Mental Retardation Services (DBH/MRS).

Here is a caring and loving man at the top of his game and one of the pivotal leaders of the drive to transform Philadelphia’s system of care into a recovery-oriented service delivery system that puts the needs of PIRs (People In Recovery) first and encourages them to choose a personal pathway and style of recovery.

They do this by optimizing autonomy and exercising independence and choice. The PIR identifies personal life goals and in collaboration with others, directs his or her recovery by designing a unique path towards those goals. People have the opportunity to choose from a range of options and to participate in all decisions that affect their lives.

And, as PIRs ‘confront the burden of being human’ – which is what they do by struggling to be OK as opposed to struggling to seem OK - miracles happen.

I witnessed one such miracle the other day at the aptly named ‘Miracles in Progress 2 Sanctuary Programme’ a North Philadelphia Health Systems (NPHS) initiative which offers comprehensive, recovery-oriented, substance abuse and co-occurring treatment services to the chronic homeless population.

Tony Moses, the Clinical Supervisor of Miracles in Progress 2, had told me earlier about a telephone call he’d received from a blind, elderly man who had presented for treatment. As part of his assessment he had been referred to staff at a nearby hospital’s ophthalmology department who had carried out a relatively simple surgical procedure on the man’s eyes. As he came round from the anaesthetic, the man had insisted excitedly on telephoning Tony from the recovery room. This was his message, “Tony! Tony! I can see! I was blind…..but now I can see!”

As we left St Joseph’s Hospital, where Miracles in Progress 2 programme is located, I was confronted by a sight I will not forget for as long as I live. An elderly man was dancing in the yard outside. He was waving his arms above his head and dancing what seemed to be a jig of celebration. He hugged other PIRs who watched him in stunned silence as he danced over to where we were standing. He hugged Tony Moses; he hugged Garry Brown, DBH/MRS’ Communications Director; he hugged Jennifer Sears, who has accompanied me on all my visits to the various, diverse programmes here; and he hugged me too. With tears streaming down his face, he proclaimed, “I love you all. Thank you! Thank you all so very much!”

Then he looked upwards, his blood-stained eyes protected from the glare of the strong sunlight by tinted, protective lenses. “Thank you, God” he said. “Thank you for giving me back my eyesight!” And, to the accompanying applause and hurrahs of his PIRs, off he danced to another part of the yard – to tell even more people about the miracle that had befallen him. Here was a recovery advocate par excellence!

I felt that what I had witnessed was a powerful metaphor for what is happening in the recovery world. Eyes are being opened across the world, as in a miracle, to the effectiveness of peer-based recovery-oriented system of care. I feel there’s an increasing groundswell of support for this approach. And it’s coming, primarily, from the recovery community itself. Their voices are at last being heard.

However, as my reading today by Mathew Arnold reminds me, ‘Miracles do not happen’. We must do our part. If we look at the history of our personal miracles, we can usually see that time, pain, and patience prepared the way. As the saying goes, ‘To catch a falling star, we must be standing under it!’

When, on Tuesday night, I related the story of the blind man who could now see to Professor Roland Lamb’s class at the University of the Sciences, Pennsylvania, during his lecture on ‘Slaying the Dragon’, Bill White’s masterly book on the history of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, Roland immediately recalled John Newton’s famous hymn, Amazing Grace and, in particular, the first verse:

‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.’

Incidentally, Roland’s welcome to me has been extraordinary, and his offer of support to me personally and his eagerness to help us develop our important project, The Living Room Cardiff, is both comforting and exhilarating. I look forward very much to cooperating with Roland and his team on future projects, and I will relish every opportunity to strengthen our ties and deepen our relationship even more.

I’ve visited, on average, 4 treatment programmes each day this week ranging from: ODAAT (One Day At A Time) – that provides a range of services to low income and homeless men and women suffering from addiction and HIV/AIDS, to Women’s House of Hugs – that provides housing as well as ongoing networking systems for women who have become homeless due to abuse of some form; to the NET (North East Treatment Centres) – whose mission it is to provide comprehensive behavioural health services and social services to adults, children, and their families.

I’ve also had a tour of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Programme and marvelled at the ingenuity, creativeness and the community cohesion that made these towering works of art possible.

And, yes, I visited Philadelphia’s own Living Room Project! Our own Living Room Cardiff project, as a result, will benefit immensely from this particular visit. We’ve promised to keep in touch and exchange information. Coincidentally, our objectives are similar: 1) to be a programme where PIRs can establish effective and rewarding social and support networks; 2) to help PIRs achieve success and act as a stepping stone to greater achievement; and 3) to provide a nourishing milieu for PIRs’ empowerment – i.e. helping people to have the motivation to utilize their skills and knowledge.

I also got to meet and work with Peter Rainford, another Churchill Fellow, who’s visiting similar peer-based recovery centres in this Eastern part of the U.S. You can access Peter’s blogs on as well. We met for the first time for dinner on Sunday night and have had shared visits to some of the programme providers and to other presentations, such as Sam Cutler’s overview of Drug Use in Philadelphia and Cathy Bolton’s introduction to her work as Director of Continuous Quality Improvement.

I seem to be doing nothing but eating out! I can assure you that in between meals I am also doing some very hard work and learning loads!

I did however enjoy another very tasty and fulfilling meal, this time with Dr Arthur Evans, Director of the DBH/MRS in the city of Philadelphia and Sade Ai, his Deputy Director. Sade, incidentally, went to the same college in Vermont as Bill White. “They encouraged us to think differently there!”

I presented both Dr Evans and Sade with two Tea Towels (gifts from the Welsh Society of Churchill Fellows) and a Sir Winston Churchill Commemorative Crown in appreciation of the fabulous welcome I’ve received and the unique access I’ve been given (at every level) to the facilities and facilitators here. It’s been truly amazing. And I’ve been treated like a king, with the red carpet being rolled out for me at every single facility, programme or event that I’ve either visited or attended!

Now, let me introduce you properly to the man who’s driving the ongoing efforts to transform DBH/MRS from the Acute Service Model to the Recovery-oriented service delivery model that is so admired across the world.

Arthur C. Evans Jr, Ph.D. is the Director of Philadelphia's DBH/MRS, a $1 billion healthcare agency. Since Dr. Evans' appointment in November 2004, Philadelphia has begun a transformation of its entire system to one that focuses on recovery for adults, resiliency for children and self-determination for all people who use mental retardation services.

Dr. Evans is a clinical and community psychologist. He holds a faculty appointment at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He held faculty appointments at the Yale University School of Medicine and Quinnipiac University. Dr. Evans has extensive experience in transforming systems of care while serving in several national leadership roles.

Prior to coming to Philadelphia, Dr. Evans was the Deputy Commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS). In this capacity, he led several major strategic initiatives for the Connecticut behavioural healthcare system. He was instrumental in implementing a recovery-oriented policy framework, addressing health care disparities and increasing the use of evidence-based practices.

Here, of course, he worked with my friend and Executive Director of CCAR, Phil Valentine.

Dr. Evans currently serves in several national leadership roles that include: Chair of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Partners for Recovery Initiative Steering Committee, Co-Chair of National Action Group on Fostering System Reform for Adults with Serious Mental Illness, and Member of the Federal Centre for Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory Committee.

Dr. Evans is highly committed to serving people who are underserved and ensuring that all people have access to effective, quality services.

But why is he so important for us at the Welsh Council and to Wired in?
Well, Dr Evans has agreed to join the latter’s advisory board. More, he thinks that Wired In is the right medium to carry the message of Recovery worldwide!

For us at the Welsh Council, he’ll be a contact at the highest level that will provide us with all the help that we need to establish The Living Room Cardiff project, and to develop our services for the future. Great, eh?

The music I’m listening today is Amazing Grace sung by I.V. Webb. (Now, is that a coincidence or is that a coincidence!!)

And a thought for you for the day from the wisdom of Tao Te Ching:

‘Good fortune, bad fortune
One seems to bring benefit
The other to cause harm
But Heaven rejects them both
Both, in the end, tether men to this world.’

I was privileged to share my story of recovery at the Last Stop Clubhouse tonight (Thursday 11th October) and made many new friends from the rougher, more impoverished side of the city in the process. On the wall was this simple prayer:

‘Lord, teach us to laugh again. But, God, don’t ever let us forget that we cried.’

There was also this slogan: ‘I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk.’

And just before the meeting. I visited the tomb of Cardinal John Newman (yes, there are two of them!) at the church of St. Peter The Apostle. Cardinal Newman’s body is there in a glass cage for all to see as his corpse, for some strange reason, has not decomposed.

I reckon they should put Eddie, the guy who runs the Last Stop Clubhouse, in a glass case as well when he goes to his maker. He, like Cardinal Newman, has saved countless lives from a fate worse than Hell.

One more thing, I met John at the NET centre last week. He runs a Methadone Stabilization Programme for those dependent on Opiates. These PIRs can be detoxed, if they so wish, from alcohol whilst remaining on the Methadone Stabilization Programme.

Now, you purists, get your heads around that one!

Thanks for reading my blog. Thanks also for your very positive responses. Diolch am ddarllen fy hynt a’m helynt yn America. Nos dawch. Cysgwch yn dawel. W X

Sunday, 7 November 2010

'This is what man is intended to be; an expanding spiritual plant, not petrified wood.'

I bought a book yesterday, a new translation by Jonathan Star of Tao Te Ching. It's got little gems like this in it: 'Govern a nation as you would fry a small fish.' Or, how about this:

'The sun in all its glory
reveals but a passing world
only the inner light illuminates eternity
only that light can guide us back home.'

And this – which will resonate with all 12-Steppers, I’m sure:

‘The movement of Tao is to return
the way of Tao is to yield

Heaven, Earth, and all things
are born of the existent world
the existent world is born of the nothingness of Tao’

This is how a new friend of mine, James F. McGovern Jr. (great name!), who I met for the first time yesterday, has translated the same poem in his book, Twelve Steps to Change Your World (ISBN: b978-0-578-04126-1):

‘The movement of the Way is a return
In weakness lies its major usefulness
From What-is all the world of things were born
But What-is sprang from what is not’

I went to a meeting on Thursday night and shared some unimportant trivia about Recovery being about experiencing shitty days as well as joyous days. It so happened that there was a young man there on the verge of drinking that had just been released from prison the previous day - and it was just, he said, what he needed to hear.

Amazing how this programme works!

I’ve had a wonderful few days here experiencing at first hand how Philadelphia is transforming to a Recovery Focused System of Care.

But what does System Transformation mean? Isn’t ‘change’ a better word for what is happening here?

Well, a chameleon can change. Not surprisingly, it can also change back or revert to its previous state without much difficulty.

System Transformation, on the other hand, is much more than that. Take the butterfly as an example.

From the New Life represented in the Egg, to the growth of the Caterpillar, to the Transformation within the Chrysalis, to the rebirth that is the Butterfly we appreciate little of the process if we don’t understand the relationship each stage has to the next and owes to those before it.

System Transformation (and the “Egg”, in this context, is Recovery as an organising principle) requires that we appreciate each stage - regardless of how slow, painful and unpredictable - trusting that the end product is the foundation for a Community of Recovery. And, of course, once transformed, the butterfly can never revert to being a caterpillar!

Tragedy struck on Wednesday afternoon as I was about to film contributions from William Dinwiddle, CEO of the Mental Health Association and members of his executive team, I dropped the Sony Super Steady (sic!) camera and the battery shattered on the floor. Now it isn’t my camera and it’s rather old! So you can imagine my concern. Where would I find a new battery for this rather outdated piece of equipment? Thankfully, I found a replacement battery in only the second camera equipment shop we visited, and peace of mind was restored.

Earlier in the day I had visited Bev Haberle and her team at PRO-ACT

 PRO-ACT, (Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together), was formed in 1997, by The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc., which has been providing advocacy, prevention, intervention, and recovery support services in the community for 35 years.
 An affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
 Grassroots advocacy initiative founded to promote the rights of and ensure opportunities for those still suffering from the disease of addiction, members of the recovery community, and their family members who wish to advocate in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

PRO-ACT’s mission is to provide resources and opportunities to reduce the impact of addiction, trauma and other related health issues for the entire community. They do it, however, under an overarching atmosphere of love and with dedication, passion and commitment.

Here’s an initiative of theirs that you might like to replicate in your towns and cities: the Tree of Hope.

People are able to dedicate a Star on this Christmas Tree of Hope to Celebrate freedom from addiction, honouring persons successfully achieving recovery; to Dedicate rays of hope to those still struggling in their illness and those working in the field; and to Commemorate lives lost to this tragic and misunderstood disease.

This is an initiative celebrated in Philadelphia every Christmas. You too could arrange such an evening of hope and dignity in your own communities. It would be an opportunity, would it not, to enjoy fellowship, music, personal testimonials and light refreshments in the cause of Recovery. I’m certainly going to be cooperating with others on my return to Wales to establish this annual tradition in Cardiff.

Incidentally, I returned to the PRO-ACT Recovery Community Centre (one of 5 centres they operate within community settings) last night, Friday 5th October, to enjoy an evening of fun and games with other members of the community. (Remember, recovery is not all about working on yourself; it’s about creating ‘meaningful connections and roles in one’s community’ and having fun doing it.) I played Bingo for the first time since my childhood – and won two games!! I think people were quite pleased to see me leave with Jim, who had invited me out for a meal, because with all the luck I was having, I’m sure they thought I was going to win all the prizes!

And yes, I’m eating very well thank you! Bev Haberle invited me out for dinner on Wednesday night and we were able to continue our discussions from the morning session. Fred and Brooke accompanied Bev and a good time was had by all! I’m also indebted to the staff at the Down Home Diner for providing me with breakfast every morning and to Mr Stephen Shao, of the Shanghai Gourmet, for the two lovely meals I’ve so far enjoyed at his restaurant. Both these eateries are located in the Reading Terminal Market a few yards away from my hotel. And what a fascinating place it is!
Reading Terminal Market is filled with local produce, fresh eggs, milk, meats, poultry, seafood, handmade crafts, jewellery, and clothing. The Market is home to more than 80 merchants, two of whom are descendants of the original stand holders from a century before. On any given day one can find an eclectic array of fresh baked Amish goods, produce direct from the field, unusual spices, free range meats and poultry, flowers, ethnic foods, and much more. One hundred thousand Philadelphians and tourists pass through the Reading Terminal Market every week enjoying its exceptional products, history, and people.
I will, in future blogs, talk more about two projects in particular which excited me very much: the DBH Chronic Homeless Substance Abuse Treatment Project, where I met about 15 PIRs (People In Recovery) and was able to share with them about my own recovery. Interestingly, they told me what was different about this approach to previous failed attempts to recover. “Everything was imposed on us before. Counsellors told us what to do; we weren’t even allowed to stay in bed in the mornings, we had to do what we were told to do or else we’d be asked to leave. Here, nobody tells us what to do. We decide what works best for us, and it works.”

And the other project is STOP (Sobriety Through Out Patient). STOP’s programme design supports an integrated evidence-based treatment model that focuses on recovery, resilience and wellness for those with co-occurring issues (mental health and drug and alcohol). STOP offers help to persons 14 years of age and older, and is a state-of-the art quality outpatient (OP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) facility.

By the way, did you notice that all important word integrated? Because unless we adopt an integrated approach in dealing with diverse co-occurring issues then, I’m afraid, we’re condemning PIRs to an ongoing revolving-door situation whereby one untreated condition (whether a mental health or substance abuse issue) triggers relapse.

STOP is also keen to link up with Wales regarding Radio/TV internet transmissions. I’ll be returning to STOP on Thursday next to record a Radio interview and to discuss further these exciting possibilities.

Last night Jim collected me from my hotel and drove me down the 2.8 miles that is Kensington Avenue. At one time, hardworking blue-collar workers inhabited this rather proud suburb of Philadelphia. Now, however, it’s in poor repair and a haven for drug addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes. I witnessed the walking dead shuffling aimlessly along or congregating miserably on street corners. Most of them – the men, in particular - on heroin (there is good quality heroin on the streets of Philadelphia!) or on Crack (mainly the women) or Suboxone (both men and women).

However, where there is darkness there is also light. Indeed, without the darkness we’d be unable to identify the light. And there’s plenty of light and hope on Kensington Avenue.

There’s St Francis Inn, for example, where they feed the homeless every day, and there are loads of Recovery Houses on the Avenue. Jim took me to the Hope Outreach Ministries of the United Church of Christ, where the Reverend Savage, a woman pastor, had given over her church to house and feed the homeless. There I met Tommy Gallagher, a homeless man himself, who has assumed responsibility for organising the centre. 17 men would sleep there last night. I tell you, the love in that place was palpable.

Incidentally, the authorities tried to close the place down because it didn’t conform to safety regulation. But Tommy and his men rallied support and got the backing of TV stations and the religious community. The authorities finally relented and Tommy and his merry men are now making some structural alterations to the church so that they comply with building and safety regulations. Tommy told me, with justifiable pride, that they hope to be able to offer a home to 40 men by the time they’ve finished the work.

I then visited a Spanish NA meeting in Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Centre (who was archbishop of Philadelphia between 1988 and 2003), as Jim was trying to set up a Spanish speaking NA meeting for some of the PIRs who access his recovery facility.

I have a special interest in the language of treatment, as plenty of evidence suggests that treatment is more effective if delivered in the mother tongue. That’s why The Living Room Cardiff will offer help in both Welsh and English languages. The provision of treatment in other minority languages is our long-term goal.

Then it was off to a Fellowship Clubhouse (opposite St Francis Inn). The place was heaving. I was given a warm welcome and invited to return next Thursday night to share my story. All members were then served spaghetti bolognaise with garlic bread. Oh, I so regretted having eaten earlier at Freddy and Tony’s on Allegheny Avenue! (Between you and me the food wasn’t very good there!)

As I departed, one member came up to me and gave me a hug. “There’s more love in this place than in the whole of Philadelphia” he said. Many would place mattresses on the floor and sleep in the clubhouse that night - after first of all, of course, enjoying their Movie of the Week.

So why is there all this fuss about Recovery?

Paramahansa Yogananda sums it up for me:

‘Some persons I have met, through the years have not changed at all. They remain always the same, like fossils. The difference between a fossil and a plant is that the fossil is the same now as it was millions of years ago, but the plant keeps on growing. You want to be a living seed. As soon as it is put in the ground, it begins pushing up and drawing sunlight and air, and it throws out branches and eventually it becomes a sturdy tree and covers itself with flowers.

This is what man is intended to be; an expanding spiritual plant, not petrified wood.’

Tonight I’m listening to ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You’ sung by the superb Michael BublĂ©.

Goodnight everyone. And thanks for reading my blog from Philadelphia. Nos dawch pawb. Gobeithio y gwnewch chi faddau i mi am yr holl Saesneg ‘ma. Cysgwch yn dawel.

You can view pictures, etc on

A video-diary of my Winston Churchill Fellowship ‘Recovery Tour’ will displayed on this website after my return to the U.K.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

"It is essential that we make the shift from the acute care model, we know doesn't work, to the recovery model."

My first day in the city of Philadelphia Department of Behavioural Health and Mental Retardation Services (SBHMRS) was spent meeting my contact here, Jennifer Sears, and Roland Lamb, Director of the Office of Addictions Services, to review my schedule.

I’ll tell you more about the remarkable Professor Roland Lamb in future blogs as I’ve got several more meetings arranged with him over the next two weeks and we’re also dining out together next Tuesday (9th November) after I’ve listened to him delivering a lecture at the University here.

I’ll give you a taster, however, to be getting on with. This is his way of describing what working in a peer-based, recovery-oriented service delivery system is like as opposed to the previous acute treatment system of care. “At one time I used to drive the bus. Now, I just sit in the back and pay for the petrol.”

Perhaps at this stage I should tell you a little about SBHMRS itself. The department, under its Director Arthur C Evans, PhD, is responsible for administering a broad array of treatment, intervention and prevention programmes for individuals and families impacted by mental illness, addiction and mental retardation. More than 112,000 people are served each year through a $1 billion annual budget.

The behavioural health component comprises the Office of Addiction Services, the Office of Mental Health (OMH), and Community Behavioural Health (CBH). These entities provide a full range of mental health and substance abuse treatment for approximately 100,000 adults and children annually through a network of community-based providers.

Mental Retardation Services (MRS) is responsible for the development, coordination, and monitoring of services for children and adults with mental retardation. MRS contracts with approximately 70 provider agencies to serve more than 12,000 people annually. MRS provides case management/supports coordination, in-home and residential services, early intervention, family support, day programme, and employment services.

As Dr Arthur Evans, the man responsible for the transformation of Behavioural Health Services to Recovery-Oriented system of care, explained to me over lunch today (Tuesday 2nd November), “My philosophy and belief about recovery is that it is essential that we make the shift from the acute care model, which we know doesn’t work, to a recovery model. And what that means to me is that it’s about the “why” we do treatment; it’s about the “how” we do treatment; and it’s about “what” treatment.

The “why” being, that ultimately our goal should be to help people to obtain the best possible life that they can for themselves. And in the traditional system which is focused on symptoms and the management of symptoms, that is not necessarily the view. So it shifts the “why” to much more about people having a life in the community, the kind of life that any one of us would want to have.

It shifts the “how” because for many years our field has been professionally driven and the recovery philosophy is about partnering with, standing beside the person who’s going through the process and, whether that person is a treatment professional or a person who‘s also in recovery, it about how do you partner with, become a coach or facilitator, or a support for someone who’s going through that process.

And it also shifts the “what” in treatment because it opens up many more options for folks. So, in a traditional system that is focused on symptomology and managing symptoms, the focus is on narrow sets of interventions that are focused on those particular issues. But when one moves to a recovery orientation, which is about having a life in the community, it really opens up a much broader array of services and interventions that we need to bring to bear to help folks.

So, for me, it’s about the “what” the “how” and the “why” of treatment and making that, both the philosophical shift, but then doing the real hard work of ensuring that our practices and our policies and how we finance and how we organise our service systems are aligned with that philosophy, are aligned with those practices.”

Initiatives, as was pointed out to me by Peg Minehart, the Medical Director, are geared towards encouraging the use of evidence-based practices, improving the cultural competency of all care providers, eliminating behavioural health disparities and heightening sensitivity around providing trauma-informed treatment strategies. Standard policies promoting individual choice, consistency of operations, and access to services for people with mental retardation are also being delivered.

In the afternoon, I was privileged to attend PROACT (Pennsylvania Recovery Organization – Achieving Community Together) for a Family Member Story-Telling Training session facilitated by Joan Kenerson King (who created the training model) and Jazmin Banks.

The room was packed for this wellness and recovery oriented training session which recognises that the stories of Family members are a critical tool in moving Systems Transformation forward.

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them”, so said Isak Dinesen.

Therefore, SBHMRS, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Compact, are sponsoring free trainings especially for family members of children and/or adults who have received mental health (MH) and/or substance abuse (D&A) services in the city of Philadelphia.

I stayed for the whole session and the RECOVERY in that room this afternoon was palpable. This was not only a training session but a moving and healing experience for all of us. Joan King has a magical quality about her and her conviction to the cause is inspirational. I was invited to tell my story at the end of the session.

A gardener once told me, “Wynford, if you’re ever in trouble – give, give, give.” And that’s been my philosophy throughout my recovery. Focussing on others takes me away from my pain. It’s always worked in the past – becoming a “giver” instead of a “taker”. And I saw it work again this afternoon. The blessings one receives from simply telling your own story are immeasurable. I saw people physically change, their postures straightening, their expressions mellowing and peace descending on what had previously been some very troubled and anxious souls.

And that’s why I’ll be taking this particular training model back home with me to Wales.

And the music I’m listening tonight is – Bobcaygeon sung by Damhnait Doyle, Lights down Low.

Nos dawch pawb. Diolch am ddarllen am fy nhaith yn America.

Good night, everyone. Sleep tight.