Local Profile: Dr. Sarah Scarbrough And 'REAL' Recovery Enhancement

Local Profile: Dr. Sarah Scarbrough And 'REAL' Recovery Enhancement

Is it possible to change the lives of the incarcerated community before release? Dr. Sarah Scarbrough's "Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles" Program (REAL) just might convince you.
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RICHMOND, Va. (VCU Odyssey) – Dr. Sarah Scarbrough, internal program director at the new Richmond City Justice Center located downtown near Mosby Court, is innovating her “Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles” (REAL) program to provide RCJC residents with the tools and skills to succeed after their release.

There’s soft spring in her step as she chasses through the echoing hallways of RCJC to collect homework assignments from her class of residents.

Scarbrough’s intense nine-to-five style program includes job training, talent shows, collegiate classes, mock interviews, resume writing workshops, and a 12-step system and broken up into four “phases” to assure when they’re released from jail, they never return.

During class, residents discuss what they have written for this week’s assignment; many have different ones.

“So, phase one. Do you have that for me?” Scarbrough asked one of her residents.

“Yes, I do,” he replied.

“We asked you to do phase one to get a jumpstart on your motivation,” she said. She then asked him to talk about what he wrote this week. She listens to the resident attentively.

“Even when I’m trying to push that positive side, I’m still left with the negative,” said the resident, explaining how positivity motivates him. “I’m trying to push more positivity.”

Her passion to assist residents back into the community has given her nicknames such as “mom” and tasks such as helping one open up his first bank account at the age of 40 or organizing the DMV to stop by and make IDs.

Sometimes more "tough love" is required – most of the time, the bright smile doesn’t escape her face.

Scarbrough works closely with RCJC residents involved in REAL's Fatherhood program. © Sidney Randolph for The Odyssey at VCU

When Scarbrough’s graduate assistantship supervisor suggested she obtain her Ph.D. after a Master’s in criminal justice, Scarbrough originally scoffed at the thought of studying another five years.

“I listened to her advice,” Scarbrough said, stifling a laugh, “and through that I was really able to dive in deeper and figure out what I wanted to do.”

While working on her Ph.D. in public policy from the Virginia Commonwealth University Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Scarbrough focused her research on recidivism rates among drug and substance abuse offenders.

The National Institute of Justice defines recidivism as “a person's relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime.”

The program she studied was offered through the Richmond City Jail and sponsored by the McShin Foundation, taking “the worst of the worst” and guiding them away from illicit substances in order to keep offenders from returning to jail after their sentence ends. According to John Shinholser, president and board member emeritus of McShin, the foundation sponsors five recovery and reentry programs in the metro Richmond area.

Scarbrough admits she was “terrified” when she first entered the room.

“I was in [the housing unit] with 120 convicted felons,” she said. “But the moment [I] walked in, I realized this was not scary anymore.”

Five years of research, hundreds of hours spent at the jail, and 223 pages of dissertation later, Sheriff C.T. Woody offered Scarbrough a full-time job as internal program director. What went from a requirement to fulfill a degree turned into a life-long passion.

When Scarbrough stepped into the old Richmond City Jail, she knew the programs needed an overhaul. The previous jail closed in early 2014 to make room for the current 1,032 bed Richmond City Justice Center.

State and local governments across the country pay thousands of dollars to house one inmate in jails and prisons. The United States is currently the world leader in incarceration, with one in 36 adults behind bars in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This equates to roughly 2.3 million imprisoned. In Virginia, the cost of arrest costs more than $5,200, according to a 2013 study by the Justice Policy Institute.

Scarbrough said the old jail was “built to warehouse people." Despite efforts and programming to assist residents, Scarbrough was concerned the “1960s mentality” of “locking up and throwing away the key” wouldn’t be the most effective.

“There was never a holistic plan to address these behaviors,” she said.

Scarbrough seeks to provide REAL program participants a "holistic" approach to addressing their behaviors. © Sidney Randolph for The Odyssey at VCU.

According Shinholser, there is a total recidivism reduction of 18 percent and cost savings of nearly $8 million after residents went through the extensive program. A reduction as significant is credited to Scarbrough’s REAL program, which she dubs “a full time job” for residents. REAL is not funded, she said. Each facet of the program is donated by patrons within the community.

“[Residents] start at 8 a.m. with a cell inspection,” she said, pulling out the jam-packed schedule, “then they have their first meeting at 8:30...they go until 7 p.m.”

Residents who do not show up to the first meeting on time are not allowed to participate in any scheduled activities that day. Scarbrough said the purpose of punishment is to “ingrain structure” into residents’ lives and ultimately carry those skills once released.

Seventy-eight percent of the population of RCJC is there due to drug addiction, she said. REAL’s system is designed to strip the behaviors still existing even when the physical addictive substance is taken away during a sentence.

Scarbrough said Virginia claims to have the second lowest recidivism rate in the country. However, she said her personal time spent at the jail competes that claim as only prisons are calculated in that figure, not jails.

In 2014, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a 22.8 percent reduction in recidivism in Virginia. The figure, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections, is based on an offender’s repeat incarceration within three years of release.

“That is only reflective if they have gotten out of prison and they go back to prison,” she said. “The numbers are very, very skewed.”

REAL has been in effect just under two years. In 2015, 849 men and 79 women went through Scarbrough’s extensive program, which roughly calculates to about 10 percent of the City of Richmond’s population. Scarbrough said she does not have sufficient data yet, but is working on an evaluation for current residents.

Residents, however, speak highly of their experiences thus far.

Cary Deslandes, a current resident at RCJC working on his addictions, said he came into the REAL program “to keep his family together.”

“I wanted to give my wife some hope,” said Deslandes, “that I came to the Richmond City Jail doing something productive, rather than just sitting in a chair doing nothing.”

Deslandes said each “phase” of the program – which is based on the 12 Steps – tackles different problems from substance abuse, to motivation, to relationships, and more. He said he “continued to grow” throughout the phase work.

Another resident, Lynn Evans, 59, said he had been using drugs all his life before entering REAL.

“I’ve never seen a program like this before,” said Evans. “It motivates you to want to do better in life.”

Both Deslandes and Evans said they have faced numerous challenges throughout their duration, but are grateful for the support system and learning opportunities.

“The REAL program means life,” said Deslandes. “Not just existing life -- but living life.”

“[REAL] means a way of life,” Evans said. “It’s showing me that even though I’m incarcerated, I still have a chance.”


REAL program participants, Cary Deslandes and Lynn Evans talk about their experiences with addiction, incarceration, and their tenure in the program.

Carlos Jackson, a graduate of REAL, was sentenced for selling and possession of drugs.

“[The “REAL” program] is designed to enhance recovery,” Jackson said. “But, you have to first know what you’re recovering from.”

Scarbrough said Jackson “truly embraced every opportunity” while incarcerated. Under her supervision, Jackson was awarded RCJC’s first housing scholarship; his first two months’ rent was covered, and was donated furniture, toiletries, and food to kickstart his life once he officially released.

“If this intervention didn’t occur, he would have been homeless upon release,” Scarbrough said.

Jackson said he was “never big on drug abuse,” but did sell them. He was in the program about 10 months. Later, he went on to become a leader in group sessions to assist newer program members.

Jackson said he was denied food stamps once his life began to stabilize.

“They have a new system,” he said. “Now, you have to at least maintain a job no less than 20 hours a week. When I got out, I didn’t have that.”

In order to become eligible for the food stamps, Jackson had to attend workshops weekly for a minimum of 20 hours per week. He said that now he has two jobs, his income is steady enough to support himself without food stamps.

“Without the donations, it would have been really hard for me,” he said.

Scarbrough said with a program this extensive; there are always challenges, especially with younger residents thinking they’re "invincible." Residents like Deslandes, Evans, and Jackson prove how more offenders are seeking change.

Her tone shifted dramatically as she mentioned how disheartening it is to tell a resident about to release that they are unable to get housing.

The average cost of rent in Richmond was $871 in 2013, according to national statistic site City-Data. Scarbrough gave an example of the unsafe housing many residents are forced to live in post-release. Homeless shelters are often "too competitive" of a solution.

“I have a guy who was able to move out of the projects...he’s since moved back to the projects,” she said. “Not because of a desire to be in the projects in a dangerous area where he can’t play outside -- he can’t afford it.”

Scarbrough announces which residents were selected for this year's father/son event. Male residents will be playing basketball with their sons at an exclusive event on June 22, 2016. © Sidney Randolph for The Odyssey at VCU.

Scarbrough has worked alongside housing officials to find safe and reliable housing for her released residents, but is often unsuccessful finding anything less than $500 per month in what she considers a “semi-decent neighborhood.”

The same resident for whom she found housing was cursed to watch a 12-year-old girl fatally shot outside his back window.

She suggests the city look into permanent housing and “intermingle” them with safer neighborhoods.

She also mentions how the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) refuses to rent to felons. RRHA has been contacted for comment, however they have yet to respond.

The city, Scarbrough said, has hundreds of initiatives in place, but she believes they are not doing “the right thing.”

“You’re talking about someone with horrible credit, someone who is a felon...who is going to want to rent to them?” she said. “So, they’re all illegally living with girlfriend, or baby mama, or whomever because no one will rent to them. The city needs to truly think about this.”

But Scarbrough manages to remain positive. She said the larger issues with housing and locating jobs can be draining, but smaller issues such as gathering donations or buying toilet paper balance it all out.

On Wednesday, May 18, Scarbrough (second from left) brought in two local Holocaust survivors to speak to those in the REAL program. © Keyris Manzaneres for The Odyssey at VCU.

“There’s no typical day,” she said in reference to her daily schedule. “Expect the unexpected.”

Scarbrough remains humbled by her job, and continues to learn every day from the residents and their response to the program. Some days, there are residents unwilling to change. But other times, her phone explodes with calls, text messages, and emails thanking her for the work she does.

Despite doubters, Scarbrough said 95 percent of people incarcerated will be released (Bureau of Justice Statistics), therefore it is vital to assist reentry while still incarcerated.

“The question is,” she said, “do you want them coming back as a better criminal, or a better citizen? We interact with the criminal justice community every day. You or I could be the next victim.”
Cover Image Credit: © Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly (2014)

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Your Wait time At Theme Parks Is Not Unfair, You're Just Impatient

Your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself.

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Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios "unboxed" on June 30, 2018. My friend and I decided to brave the crowds on opening day. We got to the park around 7 AM only to find out that the park opened around 6 AM. Upon some more scrolling through multiple Disney Annual Passholder Facebook groups, we discovered that people were waiting outside the park as early as 1 AM.

We knew we'd be waiting in line for the bulk of the Toy Story Land unboxing day. There were four main lines in the new land: the line to enter the land; the line for Slinky Dog Dash, the new roller coaster; the line for Alien Spinning Saucers, the easier of the new rides in the land; Toy Story Mania, the (now old news) arcade-type ride; and the new quick-service restaurant, Woody's Lunchbox (complete with grilled cheese and "grown-up drinks").

Because we were so early, we did not have to wait in line to get into the land. We decided to ride Alien Spinning Saucers first. The posted wait time was 150 minutes, but my friend timed the line and we only waited for 50 minutes. Next, we tried to find the line for Slinky Dog Dash. After receiving conflicting answers, the runaround, and even an, "I don't know, good luck," from multiple Cast Members, we exited the land to find the beginning of the Slinky line. We were then told that there was only one line to enter the park that eventually broke off into the Slinky line. We were not about to wait to get back into the area we just left, so we got a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania that we didn't plan on using in order to be let into the land sooner. We still had to wait for our time, so we decided to get the exclusive Little Green Man alien popcorn bin—this took an entire hour. We then used our Fastpass to enter the land, found the Slinky line, and proceeded to wait for two and a half hours only for the ride to shut down due to rain. But we've come this far and rain was not about to stop us. We waited an hour, still in line and under a covered area, for the rain to stop. Then, we waited another hour and a half to get on the ride from there once it reopened (mainly because they prioritized people who missed their Fastpass time due to the rain). After that, we used the mobile order feature on the My Disney Experience app to skip part of the line at Woody's Lunchbox.

Did you know that there is actually a psychological science to waiting? In the hospitality industry, this science is the difference between "perceived wait" and "actual wait." A perceived wait is how long you feel like you are waiting, while the actual wait is, of course, the real and factual time you wait. There are eight things that affect the perceived wait time: unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time, pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits, anxiety makes waits feel longer, uncertain waits are longer than certain waits, unexplained waits are longer than explained waits, unfair waits are longer than equitable waits, people will wait longer for more valuable service and solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

Our perceived wait time for Alien Spinning Saucers was short because we expected it to be longer. Our wait for the popcorn seemed longer because it was unoccupied and unexplained. Our wait for the rain to stop so the ride could reopen seemed shorter because it was explained. Our wait between the ride reopening and getting on the coaster seemed longer because it felt unfair for Disney to let so many Fastpass holders through while more people waited through the rain. Our entire wait for Slinky Dog Dash seemed longer because we were not told the wait time in the beginning. Our wait for our food after placing a mobile order seemed shorter because it was an in-process wait. We also didn't mind wait long wait times for any of these experiences because they were new and we placed more value on them than other rides or restaurants at Disney. The people who arrived at 1 AM just added five hours to their perceived wait

Some non-theme park examples of this science of waiting in the hospitality industry would be waiting at a restaurant, movie theater, hotel, performance or even grocery store. When I went to see "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the power went out in the theater right as we arrived. Not only did we have to wait for it to come back and for them to reset the projectors, I had to wait in a bit of anxiety because the power outage spooked me. It was only a 30-minute wait but felt so much longer. At the quick-service restaurant where I work, we track the time from when the guest places their order to the time they receive their food. Guests in the drive-thru will complain about 10 or more minute waits, when our screens tell us they have only been waiting four or five minutes. Their actual wait was the four or five minutes that we track because this is when they first request our service, but their perceived wait begins the moment they pull into the parking lot and join the line because this is when they begin interacting with our business. While in line, they are experiencing pre-process wait times; after placing the order, they experience in-process wait times.

Establishments in the hospitality industry do what they can to cut down on guests' wait times. For example, theme parks offer services like Disney's Fastpass or Universal's Express pass in order to cut down the time waiting in lines so guests have more time to buy food and merchandise. Stores like Target or Wal-Mart offer self-checkout to give guests that in-process wait time. Movie theaters allow you to check in and get tickets on a mobile app and some quick-service restaurants let you place mobile or online orders. So why do people still get so bent out of shape about being forced to wait?

On Toy Story Land unboxing day, I witnessed a woman make a small scene about being forced to wait to exit the new land. Cast Members were regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the land due to the large crowd and the line that was in place to enter the land. Those exiting the land needed to wait while those entering moved forward from the line. Looking from the outside of the situation as I was, this all makes sense. However, the woman I saw may have felt that her wait was unfair or unexplained. She switched between her hands on her hips and her arms crossed, communicated with her body language that she was not happy. Her face was in a nasty scowl at those entering the land and the Cast Members in the area. She kept shaking her head at those in her group and when allowed to proceed out of the land, I could tell she was making snide comments about the wait.

At work, we sometimes run a double drive-thru in which team members with iPads will take orders outside and a sequencer will direct cars so that they stay in the correct order moving toward the window. In my experience as the sequencer, I will inform the drivers which car to follow, they will acknowledge me and then still proceed to dart in front of other cars just so they make it to the window maybe a whole minute sooner. Not only is this rude, but it puts this car and the cars around them at risk of receiving the wrong food because they are now out of order. We catch these instances more often than not, but it still adds stress and makes the other guests upset. Perhaps these guests feel like their wait is also unfair or unexplained, but if they look at the situation from the outside or from the restaurant's perspective, they would understand why they need to follow the blue Toyota.

The truth of the matter is that your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself. We all want instant gratification, I get it. But in reality, we have to wait for some things. It takes time to prepare a meal. It takes time to experience a ride at a theme park that everyone else wants to go on. It takes time to ring up groceries. It takes patience to live in this world.

So next time you find yourself waiting, take a minute to remember the difference between perceived and actual wait times. Think about the eight aspects of waiting that affect your perceived wait. Do what you can to realize why you are waiting or keep yourself occupied in this wait. Don't be impatient. That's no way to live your life.

Cover Image Credit:

Aranxa Esteve

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With Liberty And Justice For All

Does granting justice to others mean we have to sacrifice our liberty?
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Like most public elementary school kids, I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of class every day. But to be honest, I always dreaded it. It was something extra we had to do. A box we had to check.

No one understood the true meaning of the words. As an eight-year-old, no one taught me what justice or liberty were. It wasn't until years later that I finally understood the true meaning of the words I said in a classroom so long ago.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…

To what are we pledging our allegiance, our loyalty to? The United States of America, sure. But what does that entail? Not many know. Does it mean to vote? Does it mean to fight in the military? Everyone has a different answer to that question. For me, the answer is to fight for the rights of migrants and other immigrants.

And to the republic for which it stands…

What exactly is our nation standing for? What are its values? Its beliefs? Does it involve treating those less fortunate than us with compassion? Or is it everybody for themselves?

One nation under God, indivisible…

Indivisible. United. Are we united? As a country are we united? On April 30, 2018, President Trump tweeted in response to a group of 1,200 migrants that traveled from Central America to seek a better life for their children. Only 200 of them, most of them children, desire asylum in the United States.

Asylum is a legal immigration process where those that have been victimized or fear being victimized in their home countries “based on their race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership in a particular group" can apply for a special type of visa to live in the United States.

According to his tweet, President Trump viewed the migrants as a prime example of how ineffective U.S. immigration laws are. On April 30, 2018, eight of the migrants were allowed to apply for asylum. This does not mean they will be granted citizenship. It simply means they are starting the process to legally enter U.S. borders.

With liberty and justice for all…

Many of the migrants want a better life for their kids. Many of them are fleeing their countries due to poverty and threats of violence from gang members. As a child, I never had to worry about sleeping on a cold, cement floor because my parents didn't make enough money. As a child, I never had to worry about my parents being threatened in the dead of night by a gang member, demanding something in exchange for my life. One thing is certain for these migrants: there is no going back.

Everyone deserves justice. It's easy to judge the situation from so many miles away. But I am not in their shoes. And neither are so many others. It's easy to dismiss what you can't see.

But what can I do? I have my own family, my own life to worry about. I have bills to pay just like everybody else. But what would you do if it was your kid? Your mother or father? Your friend who was treated without compassion when they entered another country?

Everyone deserves liberty. Does granting justice to others mean we have to sacrifice our liberty? Not necessarily. Not if we act. As corny as it sounds, not doing something is the worst thing to do. Vote. Write. Protest. Let your voice be heard. And one day, change may happen.

Cover Image Credit: Everypixel

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