FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – It’s a graduation ceremony like none other: a powerful celebration inside the Flagler County Jail for inmates who complete a three-month addiction recovery program that is also unique.
News 6 discovered the ceremony is so much more than a formality; it’s one of the reasons inmates are not coming back to jail.
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News 6 has been spotlighting Flagler County’s successful jail recovery program -- S.M.A.R.T. (Successful Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Treatment) since last year.
Graduation day is a key component of S.M.A.R.T., for the graduating inmates but also for the current inmates.
For many of them, graduation day is the biggest moment of their lives in years, even decades. Many of them haven’t had success to celebrate in a long time.
Lindsey Scanlon, arrested seven times, mostly for drugs, is surrounded by the women with whom she’s lived for three months, eating, living and breathing addiction recovery.
“You’ve grown as a person but also as a mother!” the fellow female inmates shout. “And I love you girl!”
[INSIDER EXTRA: See Lindsey Scanlon’s emotional graduation from the Flagler County jail]
Leading the graduation ceremony is the chief of the Flagler County Jail, Daniel Engert.
“I tell you all the time, the most important place for you isn’t here. What we focus on is what you’re going to be out there,” Engert told Scanlon.
Scanlon and another inmate are graduating. Effectively, it’s a ceremony celebrating leaving behind a life of addiction and relapse and ending up in the Flagler County Jail over and over.
Engert drills the women with questions: what’s their plan, where will they live, with whom will they live, how will they get jobs, how will they get around town?
“I’m going to be living at a sober house,” Scanlon answers.
“What about aftercare?” Engert asks.
“I already have Stuart Marchman [SMA], I have an appointment set up with them,” Scanlon said. “So I have aftercare.”
For some of the inmates, the 90 days in the jail’s S.M.A.R.T. program, which houses recovering inmates together in their own pod, living and learning from counselors and addicts-turned-teachers, is the longest they’ve been sober in years.
Scanlon pours out her heart to her fellow inmates -- peers, she now considers them. And she is eternally grateful to Engert.
“What you offer your inmates, your individuals, substance abuse treatment, mental health therapy, social skills and job training skills -- we are given opportunities of hope and healing,” Scanlon told Engert.
Scanlon is a mother of a 13- and 14-year-old. She misses them dearly.
“They’re excited that I’m going to a treatment program and getting the help that I need,” Scanlon said. “I’ve got a sense of pride again. A sense of self. Something I was lacking when I came in here. I felt lost.”
On this day, four men are also graduating from S.M.A.R.T. Engert leads the same ceremony for them.
“It’s an accountability measure for them because they don’t want to let people down,” Engert said.
Engert, every day, is hands-on in the jail, especially with S.M.A.R.T. inmates. He calls them by name, gives out his cellphone number after they graduate and communicates with them daily when they’re on the outside, all of which increases the graduates’ chances for success.
“I absolutely have found that,” Engert said. “It shows that not only have they accomplished something, it largely demonstrates everybody pulling for them.”
Engert brought S.M.A.R.T. to the Flagler County Jail and has led 10 graduation ceremonies over the past year. He said 60% of the grads have stayed clean. That’s compared to the 20% nationwide average for other addiction recovery programs, according to Engert.
Some of the inmates volunteer for S.M.A.R.T. and others are being ordered into the program by Flagler County judges.
Engert said Flagler County just won the Jail of the Year Innovation Award in its size category from the American Jail Association, largely because of S.M.A.R.T.