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Inmates talk about life 'inside'

October 08, 2000

Inmates talk about life 'inside'



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Darien ScipioDarien Scipio was behind bars when his daughter graduated from high school.

"It was painful and an embarrassment," Scipio told a 17-year-old heroin addict as she and a group of Catoctin Summit students attended a PATT program at the Maryland Correctional Institution last week.

PATT is Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy. It's an in-your-face educational experience ... unique because it was developed 14 years ago by inmates within the walls of MCI-H, a medium correctional prison south of Hagerstown.

Scipio and more than two dozen other inmates, some doing life for murder, spent two hours with the Catoctin group, which is made up of youngsters who have come to the attention of the juvenile justice system.

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The common thread between the two, seemingly diverse groups was drugs.

"It's too late for some of us ... it's not too late for you," said David Belton, president of PATT who is serving a life sentence for murder.

Belton, now 56, marched back and forth in front of the young offenders and challenged them to break free of their addictions.

"Look at my scars," Belton said, pulling up his shirt to show where he'd had abdominal surgery. "I destroyed my liver with drugs."

Todd McKenrick, one of two case managers/advisors to PATT, didn't sugar-coat his presentation to the teens, either.

Inmates earn about $18 a month. From that, they must pay for commissary items and other "luxuries" like deodorant.

"There are no packages or money from home anymore," McKenrick said. "You have to pay $2 just to see the nurse."

As a young man, inmate James Fitzpatrick used his drug of choice - alcohol - to turn his fear into anger.

"Then I got 50 years for a murder I didn't do, I was just along," Fitzpatrick said.

Without missing a beat, Belton hopped up out of his chair. "In prison, things happen."

He told of an inmate who was stabbed in neck while he was on the phone with his mother. Belton said it was over a ping pong game.

"I'm 37 years old and I have been in jail 75 percent of my life," said Tracy Thomas. "All I ever wanted to do was get high and do whatever I had to do to get high again."

John O'Meara wanted to fit in with the crowd when his family moved and he had to make new friends. So he drank.

"Somebody died because I'm an alcoholic," he said.

Coordinating the PATT program are McKenrick and Patricia Marshall, both MCI-H case managers.

Boys and now girls between the ages of 12 and 18 are eligible to participate in the program. Adult counselors and teachers must accompany the teens and all must be cleared and sniffed by a drug dog before entering the prison.

Catoctin Summit is a 4-6 month Washington County Health Department program for teens from 13-18 in the aftercare phase of drug addiction.

Teacher Nancy Foltz accompanied the teens to MCI-H and plans to return with more kids at a later date.

"They look forward to coming here but then they are always glad to get out," Foltz said.

One 17-year-old girl said she didn't blame her addiction on anyone. "When I get mad, I use ... this is my sixth rehab and it's getting old."

She said she is tired of stealing to get money so she can get high.

A 14-year-old boy opened up to PATT member James Wells, talking about how he prayed every night that his mother would be able to stay "clean."

Still he, too, began using drugs and it became his whole life. "You know, your mom is probably praying the same prayer for you," Scipio said.

Belton approached the teen and asked him if he was ready to do something about his addiction.

"I can't say that yet ... that I'm ready to stop," the boy said.

Wells told the boy to look around at the inmates in front of him.

"We are a mirror image of you," Wells said. "You've got your whole life ahead of you and you don't have to do that no more."

For more information on PATT, call MCI-H at 240-420-1320.

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