REAL House to help former inmates on road to recovery

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 5/12/2017, 6:31 a.m.
Michael J. “Mike” Tillem is helping to solve one of the most vexing problems facing addicts who are released from ...
A grand opening for the REAL House, established by Michael J. “Mike” Tillem at 2201 Dinwiddie Ave., is scheduled for Tuesday, May 16.

Michael J. “Mike” Tillem is helping to solve one of the most vexing problems facing addicts who are released from prison — a place to stay where they can continue their recovery.

The 55-year-old Henrico County resident, a recovering addict who spent time in prison years ago, is developing homes in the Richmond area where small groups of the formerly incarcerated can live and work on staying sober.

Next week, Mr. Tillem will join Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. in opening his first recovery house in Richmond — a modest two-story home at 2201 Dinwiddie Ave. in South Side.

The grand opening is 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, to showcase the new effort to provide transitional housing for such individuals, according to Dr. Sarah Scarbrough, director of the Richmond Justice Center’s internal programs to bridge the gap between incarceration and re-entry.

Dubbed the “REAL House,” the residence provides bed space for two house managers — Charles Greene and Antonio Ingram, both recovering addicts themselves — and up to seven other men who have participated in the Recovering From Everyday Addictive Lifestyles (REAL) program in the Justice Center.

Mr. Tillem worked with Sheriff Woody to create the house. Its mission, he said, is to become a place where individuals seeking to overcome addiction “find gratitude, grace and purpose on their road to recovery.”

“The REAL House is a dream come true for us,” said Sheriff Woody, who is delighted to be able to provide some departing jail residents “a place to lay their heads as they continue their rehabilitation.”

For Sheriff Woody and Dr. Scarbrough, the house adds a community dimension to REAL, whose aim is to help addicts avoid a return to jail after their release. At the jail, the program couples group therapy and behavior modification with education and skills training.

A study of the program’s effectiveness in cutting recidivism, which Sheriff Woody released Wednesday, found that REAL had little effect on people who participated 60 days or less. Half the inmates with addiction challenges returned to the jail in less than a year on a new charge regardless of their participation in REAL.

Researcher Lisa Jobe-Shields of the University of Richmond found that the program reduced recidivism when people were in the program at least 60 days and had the most impact on those who participated in the program for at least 90 days.

Only about 30 percent of people in the program for 90 days or more were arrested again within a year. That’s one benefit of REAL House, officials said. It will extend residents’ time with the program.

While the first in the city, the house on Dinwiddie will be the fifth Mr. Tillem has developed through his company, Journey House.

He has created four others in Henrico County, including one for women and one for men to stay up to a year. There also are two rental homes where men who stayed in the first house can continue to share a house on a more permanent basis.