Berks commissioners hear stories about addiction recovery

'These programs saved my life'

READING, Pa. - In honor of National Recovery Month, George Vogel, the executive director of the Berks County Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA), and several individuals went before the Berks County commissioners at their meeting Thursday morning to share their stories and to thank the them for their ongoing support.

One story was from Jessica, who grew up in Robeson Township and was in the National Honor Society.

"One bad decision led me down a road that was four years of crystal meth addiction," she said, adding that she was homeless, had no money, no family to support her, and she was hopeless.

Jessica was arrested several times and was eventually offered treatment court.  After a relapse, she was sent to Easy Does It in January 2017 and was able to turn her life around. She has been clean ever since.

"They gave me the template to remain clean and sober," Jessica said.

She is now living in her own apartment through Berks Counseling Center's transitional housing program as she continues counseling, attending meetings, and doing what she has to, to remain in recovery.

"Just looking back, it's just amazing to see how far I have come because I never thought any of this was possible," Jessica said. "Sitting in my apartment, thinking 'I did this,' and I had all this help from people and the programs and the funding from you guys [the commissioners]."

Jessica is employed and pays rent and said she "is no longer a nuisance to the community." but has learned how to be a responsible and productive member of society.

"These programs saved my life and allowed me to be a human again," she said.

Many of the speakers shared the same sentiments about going from hopelessness and suicide attempts to being taught how to turn their lives around.

"I'll do everything to make sure that I don't waste your money," said Russell, a 27-year-old who began taking drugs at the age of 13. 

One speaker said that if it weren't for these programs, he would either be dead or in an institution, and that would not be a good way to spend the taxpayers' money.

"Comments have been made about the dollars. It's not all about how much money Berks County spends," said Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach. "If you're not in our county jail, if your children aren't in our Children and Youth Services program, if you're not in a juvenile probation program, if you're not in our adult probation, if you're not in our community re-entry center, you're saving taxpayers in this community big dollars. I would argue that spending this money has saved us far more money than we've spent, and it's clearly saved lives."

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt commended COCA, the YMCA, Camp Joy, Berks Counseling Center, Easy Does it, and other programs throughout the county. He said the individuals who administer these programs are dedicated and hardworking people.

"I see them making a difference in this community," Barnhardt said. "It's a dollar well-spent. The benefit outweighs the cost."

In other business, Ronald R. Seaman, the county's chief administrative officer, and county Solicitor Christine M. Sadler shared that they have been exploring different directions that the commissioners can investigate regarding Berks Heim.

"This is far too important a decision for this board, the community, and the staff members who will potentially be impacted by this that I am not narrowed to any time-frame," Sadler said. "It's an important decision, and we're working diligently to move forward."

Berks County residents continue to express their disapproval of the potential privatization of the county's jail in Bern Township. One person expressed his concern about putting profits before people.

"I think the county is being put in a bad position by the federal and state government and they're limiting funds coming to us for services, but we're in that position, and we have a choice as to what are we going to do," said a Wyomissing resident. "Are we going to be the last line of defense? I would plead with you to be the last line of defense."

She said she believes that a way can be found to keep the jail under the county's control. Addressing a comment she said she heard from Commissioner Mark C. Scott about the county being able to make an impact on policies and procedures at a privatized jail, she said, "There's no way."

Scott was not at the meeting.

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