As state officials patiently waited Thursday at the Rockville Correctional Facility, Gov. Mitch Daniels slowly walked across the front row of seated women who soon would receive a certificate for completing a drug addiction program.
The governor attempted to individually speak to many of the 28 women, including Starke County native Lola Fier of Knox. Fier pointed to her 15-year-old daughter, Randi, in the audience.
“This is the first time in seven months I have seen her,” Fier told the governor.
Daniels congratulated Fier, adding, “A lot don’t have the will to try.”
Next to him, inmate Camille Fincher asked the governor if she could use his name for a job reference once she leaves the correctional facility, bringing a chuckle among the seated women.
Daniels started the eight-month-long CLIFF (Clean Lifestyles Is Freedom Forever) program five years ago to treat incarcerated methamphetamine abusers. Another new program at the Rockville Correctional Facility is the Willingness, Honesty, Acceptance and Trust (WHAT) program, similar to CLIFF, but which addresses other substance addictions.
As part of a program graduation ceremony, the governor said the women “got a head start that many did not. We know this is working. We know CLIFF works and those who graduate have a dramatically better chance of going on to live the lives you were meant to live.
“We are so proud of you already for what you have done. Just simply the fact that you volunteered for this program at all and then that you stuck it out, because not everybody does,” Daniels said.
“Commencement … is a beginning. Your final exam is really ahead of you. We are just rooting for you so hard,” Daniels said.
With speeches and the ceremony complete, Fier, 44, was looking for one thing – to embrace her daughter, Randi. The two clasped in a long hug.
“I’m taller than you,” Randi told her mom. “I’m so proud of you,” she added, wiping a tear from her eye.
Fier entered the Rockville facility in November 2006 and is scheduled to be released in December 2011.
“I was dealing methamphetamine, which is what brought me here. I needed to stop and God saved my life. I am a single mom. My husband passed away. I was married 16 years. I got involved in drugs after that and I ended up here,” Fier said.
Fier also has a 16-year-old son, Jacob, and another son, Eric, who turns 20 on Monday.
“My parents have been raising them and they are 74 and 81. My mom is in a nursing home right now, as she has been very ill. My father had a pacemaker and it quit about a month ago and had to have emergency surgery,” Fier said.
“The sheriff of my town, his name is Oscar Cowen, the sheriff of Starke County, has been taking care of my daughter for the last month. He is my mom’s neighbor and has stepped up to the plate. His daughter and my daughter are in cheerleading together,” Fier said.
During the past 31⁄2 years, Fier has taken as many self-help programs as possible. “I graduated horticulture and then did building trades and got my carpenter’s apprenticeship with 1,000 hours and then CLIFF, which is an amazing, life-changing experience,” Fier said.
“I really got out a lot of garbage. CLIFF really helped me,” she said. “I have amazing children. All three of them hate drugs,” she added.
Amy Grimm, 34, of Elkhart, arrived at Rockville in 2004 and is slated to be released in April 2011.
Grimm said the CLIFF program allowed her to “work on some of my character defects and get out some of my secrets that I felt that I could not tell other people. The program allowed me to bond with a group and build trust,” she said.
Edwin G. Buss, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, said during the ceremony that methamphetamine “costs Hoosiers nearly $100 million a year,” through criminal justice system costs, health care and lost productivity.
“Between 1994 and 2004, met lab seizures rose by 3,500 percent” in the state, Buss said. In addition, Indiana ranked third in the nation in 2004 with 1,113 lab seizures, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
“Gov. Daniels immediately became aware of this problem and took significant and immediate action [in 2005], establishing the Meth Free Indiana Coalition,” including establishing the CLIFF program, “the first of its kind in any correctional facility in the nation and the world for that matter,” Buss said.
State Rep. F. Dale Grubb, D-Covington, who serves on an advisory board for the correctional facility, attended the Rockville facility ceremony.
“I get the impression that this facility cuts down on the recidisvism greatly. It is well-spent tax dollars here, I think,” Grubb said.
“I don’t know what can be done to put people on the path to non-criminal activity in the future compared to these programs. They have wonderful programs here that I think give these people some hope,” Grubb said.
On a side note, a film crew from the Oprah Winfrey Network has been filming a documentary for the past six months about some women incarcerated at the Rockville facility, including a look at the CLIFF program.
Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or email@example.com