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RDAP Journey: How RDAP Saved My Life

Updated: May 28

RDAP is about more than just getting a shorter sentence.

Most people, I know, choose to take RDAP because it will shorten their time in federal prison. That’s the prevailing rationale. When you can get a full 12 months off your sentence, the decision is pretty easy. As someone who had a relatively short sentence and only received 6 months off my term, there is an argument to be made that RDAP didn’t actually shorten my stay in prison. With First Step Act Credits & Good time credits kicking in, it’s likely I only shaved a month or two off my sentence compared to completing my prison stay without it. Actually, if I’m being truly objective when you count the four months in aftercare (RDAP also requires a 4-month aftercare component), I probably gave myself more work than I would have if I hadn’t taken the program. Lastly, and my favorite thing people get wrong about RDAP ….. most people assume the program will be a walk in the park. It’s not. I don’t care how smart, patient, or motivated you think you are …. RDAP is A LOT. 

My class started with close to 40 people….at the end, 24 remained & graduated.

In each of the four graduating classes I witnessed at least 30% did not graduate (that’s not a small amount). Some quit, some were kicked out.So after reading this you might think to yourself that I am not a fan of RDAP or I might regret taking it. Actually, it’s the exact opposite. Let me be clear: RDAP HELPED SAVE MY LIFE. 

When I got to prison through a confluence of events, I was forced to detox off a medication that was in the BOP formulary. Although it was on the BOP formulary, the institution I went to felt it was inconvenient to distribute it. So I detoxed. Detoxing in prison was the very definition of hell for me.

Thankfully, I was able to detox in the RDAP unit, which is a separate unit from the others in the prison.

Although out of close to 90 people, I was the only one detoxing at that time, there were plenty of people that had gone through this experience and were a great comfort. For my first couple of months, I laid in bed miserable & barely conscious only rising to take the mandatory meeting RDAP held every weekday morning. But it was impossible not to see most people were taking battling their addiction seriously and made a legit effort in the program. I’m not saying everyone bought in, I'm saying MOST people did. They made a choice to try rather than not. What’s the point of not caring or giving no effort? You’re the only one who suffers. YOU'RE IN PRISON. Life did not go according to plan; something in your life needs to change. Despite the clear effort most participants made, I still wasn’t sure. I thought…..“This stuff isn’t for me. I will stay in the back, stay under the radar, graduate, and get home.” Just one problem. I will be the same exact person who screwed up and made the mistakes that led to prison.

My wake-up call came while sitting in small group, detoxing, barely listening (small group is a part of RDAP where you sit and talk with your other inmates and counselor.

Sounds ridiculous or something that won’t work for you, right? WRONG! It’s not ridiculous. For most participants, it’s their favorite part of the program). That day a gentleman said some things I would have never expected & will never forget. He said “RDAP SAVED MY LIFE.” This 6’ 3’ fully tattooed person I had absolutely nothing in common with proudly stated this program was a lifesaver. Although he was not a fan of anyone that wasn’t in green, he was a leader in RDAP, he was respected by inmates, he was someone who helped run the program.

During small group, he started off by discussing and reiterating his dislike for prison & the staff that made it run (including RDAP staff), then he turned to the rest of us and in very few words told us that so little, BUT ESSENTIAL, effort is needed to be successful in this program.

Three & 1/2 hours a day for 5 days a week was all that was needed. For 210 minutes a day (5 days a week) for 9 months you needed to make an effort. Small price to pay to learn something about yourself and start to rebuild your life again. Small price to pay to get home quicker to the people that need you.  WHAT? No way. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This guy who looked like if he spoke it was to say something you weren’t gonna like ….. spoke about a program that changed his life. This person who I wouldn’t make eye contact with, let alone ask for something, offered his help to anyone who needed it. I was blown away.. If this guy who I have nothing in common with and by all accounts is respected by the inmates can say that, then I owe it to myself to listen and give the program a chance.

It’s crazy how many other people have this moment of clarity similar to mine where they decide to give RDAP a chance.

Once I decided to give it a chance, I started realizing all sorts of possibilities. I have been using some sort of drug since I was in my late 20s (I’m 48 now). My addiction had made a mess of my life. Change was needed, and prison and RDAP were going to help me become the best version of myself again.  When in your life are you going to get 9 months to analyze your addiction, the mistakes you have made, the people's lives you have affected? I used every second of that time to make improvements in my life.  RDAP is about more than just addiction; it’s about rebuilding yourself. You will work on some of life’s most essential skills. You will lead, promote, speak in public, organize, study, and learn.

If what I wrote above scares you, then YOU SHOULD TAKE RDAP. 

My RDAP graduation was more exciting than my college and high school graduations put together. I gave the commencement speech for our RDAP class. I was more nervous speaking to hundreds of my fellow inmates than the thousands I spoke to in other situations.The point of this article is as much about how you need to address your time in prison as it is about RDAP. Taking RDAP helped me work on so many things addiction and a bad choices' lifestyle had forced me to abandon.

Besides battling your addiction, RDAP has a variety of uses.

Boredom is the main killer in prison. RDAP takes a huge chunk of your time each and every day. It affords you opportunities you wouldn’t get in other situations. If you want to lead, you can lead; if you want to be a better public speaker, you will get that chance; if you want to listen and learn, you will; heck if you want to live in a cleaner unit, then there is that also. If you want to get your life together, then this program is for you.

If you read any other items I write, you will see I am no fan of BOP staff or our system of incarceration. The system is challenging to navigate. RDAP is no different; there were plenty of days I wanted to quit. You will see plenty of people quit or get kicked out.

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