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REAL LIFE Community Center extends jail program into the city

Jeremy Lazarus | 12/15/2017, 6:15 a.m.

Amid his preparations to leave office, Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. opened a new nonprofit center in Downtown this week aimed at helping people address addiction, anger and other challenges to enable them to stay out of jail.

The REAL LIFE Community Center, a community offshoot of programs at the Richmond Justice Center, opened Wednesday at 406 E. Main St. to serve clients seeking to battle drug addiction, find jobs, change antisocial behavior, rebuild family ties and regain faith.

“I am beyond proud and thankful to see the REAL Program expand out into the community where it can continue to help those who are in need,” Sheriff Woody stated in a release announcing the opening.

“I have consistently stated that no one should have to become incarcerated to get treatment for an addiction or to overcome barriers,” he continued.

“This community center will serve as not only as a rehabilitative center, but an intervention as well, enabling those who need help to get the treatment they need before they begin down the path of incarceration.”

At the jail, Sheriff Woody has supported the development of programs to enable inmates to fight addiction, seek a GED or high school diploma equivalent, manage mental health challenges and restore ties with their families.

His 12-year tenure as sheriff comes to an end on Dec. 31. He will turn over the leadership reins to Antionette V. Irving, a retired major from the Henrico Sheriff’s Office who defeated him in the Democratic primary in June and who went on to win the Nov. 7 general election.

Although linked with the REAL (Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lives) Program at the jail, the new center will operate separately through the nonprofit REAL LIFE, which has its own board of directors. Sheriff Woody is not a member, but champions the work of the nonprofit.

The center’s program is free to anyone facing personal challenges, even if they have no connection with the jail, according to Sarah Scarbrough, who runs the REAL Program in the jail to reduce recidivism and serves as chief executive officer of the nonprofit she founded to help former inmates handle challenges outside jail.

Dr. Scarbrough, who holds a Ph.D. in public policy, said the center plans to enroll about 20 people a month for services. The center will offer 12-step programs to support sobriety, family counseling, modify behavior and help participants find work and careers, she said. Each participant would be interviewed to provide a service plan that meets their needs, she said.

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with two full-time staff and volunteers, she said.

Funding is entirely from donations, Dr. Scarbrough said, crediting the Wheless Family Stewardship Fund and Dominion Energy’s charity arm with providing a major share of the money that has allowed the center to open.

She said REAL LIFE is scrambling to raise additional funding. The first-year budget is estimated at $264,000, or about $1,320 per person served.

The new center builds on efforts to help people leaving jail stay clean and sober and successfully rejoin society. REAL LIFE, begun in 2016, has operated a meeting space for released inmates on Chamberlayne Avenue. It also partnered with a private real estate company in May to open a residential space in South Side for newly released inmates who had been in the REAL Program in jail.

“This community center really is a dream come true,” Dr. Scarbrough said. “In the past, we were only able to provide these much-needed resources to those who had been in the REAL Program while incarcerated at the Richmond City Justice Center.

“But as the sheriff said, that meant someone would have to become a resident at the jail to start getting that treatment. They would have had to have earned a criminal record before getting help. That is completely backward.”