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.

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)

Popular Right Now

The Trump Presidency Is Over

Say hello to President Mike Pence.


Remember this date: August 21, 2018.

This was the day that two of President Donald Trump's most-important associates were convicted on eight counts each, and one directly implicated the president himself.

Paul Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman for a few months in 2016, but the charges brought against him don't necessarily implicate Trump. However, they are incredibly important considering was is one of the most influential people in the Trump campaign and picked Mike Pence to be the vice presidential candidate.

Manafort was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to file a report of a foreign bank account. And it could have been even worse. The jury was only unanimous on eight counts while 10 counts were declared a mistrial.

Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, told a judge that Trump explicitly instructed him to break campaign-finance laws by paying two women not to publicly disclose the affairs they had with Trump. Those two women are believed to be Karen McDougal, a Playboy model, and Stormy Daniels, a pornstar. Trump had an affair with both while married to his current wife, Melania.

And then to no surprise, Fox News pundits spun this in the only way they know how. Sara Carter on Hannity said that the FBI and the Department of Justice are colluding as if it's some sort of deep-state conspiracy. Does someone want to tell her that the FBI is literally a part of the DOJ?

The Republican Party has for too long let Trump get away with criminal behavior, and it's long past time to, at the very least, remove Mr. Trump from office.

And then Trump should face the consequences for the crimes he has committed. Yes, Democrats have a role, too. But Republicans have control of both chambers of Congress, so they head every committee. They have the power to subpoena Trump's tax returns, which they have not. They have the power to subpoena key witnesses in their Russia investigations, which they have not.

For the better part of a year I have been asking myself what is the breaking point with Republicans and Trump. It does not seem like there is one, so for the time being we're stuck with a president who paid off two women he had an affair with in an attempt to influence a United States election.

Imagine for a second that any past president had done even a fraction of what Trump has.

Barack Obama got eviscerated for wearing a tan suit. If he had affairs with multiple women, then Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell would be preparing to burn him at the stake. If they won't, then Trump's enthusiastic would be more than happy to do so.

For too long we've been saying that Trump is heading down a road similar to Nixon, but it's evident now that we're way past that point. Donald Trump now has incriminating evidence against him to prove he's a criminal, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is just getting started.

Will Trump soften the blow and resign in disgrace before impeachment like Nixon did? Knowing his fragile ego, there's honestly no telling what he'll do. But it's high time Trump leaves an office he never should have entered in the first place.

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Life In A Toxic Relationship Can Happen To Anyone— It Happened To My Friend

The one that got away...


In 2013, Jami was your average young first-year college student. She was happy-go-lucky, with a lot of future ahead of her. She became a college cheerleader, majoring in business administration, and living life as a normal 18-year-old girl with good friends.

A Sweet Start

Her relationship with her abuser started on Christmas of that year. The relationship was perfect. He truly was the perfect guy for her. He found out everything about her, what she liked, didn't like, her beliefs, etc., and he eventually became that person that she would fall for so he could control and manipulate her. She said he was charming and did all the right things, making it harder for her to leave when the bad did happen. She had seen him as a different person than the real monster she was about to encounter for their five-month relationship.

Isolation and Humiliation

It wasn't until March that he hit her. The relationship was three months of bliss. He was very erratic. His behavior was all over the place. One second he would be happy and they would be joking, and the next second she would just see his eyes change and she would know she was in trouble. He was additionally very controlling. Always making her take pictures of what she was wearing to class to make sure she wasn't dressing up or wearing make-up, making her text him when she left or arrived at a place she was going, and she always, ALWAYS, had to be in contact with him whether she was busy or not. He constantly threatened to hit her in public, saying that he wouldn't treat her this way for no reason and that it was her fault that he was treating her the way he was. He threatened to kill her and himself more times than she could even count.

"It's not like on the first date he hits you, on the first date he's everything you've been waiting for… and it's not until you're completely in love with him when he starts hitting you."

No victim should ever have those thoughts. The victim should never feel at fault but that is typically what an abuser does to a victim. How did this beautiful, young woman get to the point of thinking it was okay for someone to hit her? And more importantly, how did this young, vibrant lady question her own fault in a situation that was not her fault. Most abusers have manipulative, sociopathic, narcissistic or psychopathic tendencies. They massively manipulate victims to silence, isolate and humiliate them. They find any means to hurt, exploit or demean their intimate partners. They tend to divert the reality of the situation by deflecting responsibility.

March Incident

One March night, things escalated. Jami was watching a movie with her abuser, her sister and her sister's friend. When Jami and him went back to her room, she left her phone, because even if she had her phone he would've gone through it. Her sister took her phone and looked through it. She saw the threatening messages about how he was going to "beat her and kill her" Or "you better text me now" saying "you don't know what's going to happen when I get home..."

Her sister then screenshot the incriminating messages and sent them to their parents, who called the town's police. Her parents drove up to the apartment as well as the police.

Jami in the other room… was unaware of the hell that was about to break loose. She got a knock on her door and it was the police. The police who separated Jami and her abuser tore her room apart and questioned her. At the time Jami said she wasn't ready to leave the relationship, everything was fine to her she told the police none of it was true. Her abuser even yelled to her in the other room "tell them I didn't do anything... tell them the truth." He didn't have any money. The police didn't arrest him. They just gave him a cab to go home. Her parents stayed at her apartment for a week. Her mom would take her to class… Her dad slept on a mattress by the front door. Guarding his precious daughter against the horrors of the outside world. When her parents finally went home, her grandma stayed from March to May (the end of school).

To this day Jami doesn't know why her sister prompted to look through her phone. Could she have heard them fighting before? Could she have witnessed a physical altercation? Her family doesn't talk about it at all. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess?

"He constantly threatened to beat me in public and/or kill me. He also threatened to kill my family. That clearly did not go over well when my parents found out."

Jami knew what was happening was wrong but from the beginning, she was so manipulated. She thought he was that person. He made her believe that her parents were in the way of the relationship. She couldn't believe her parents were keeping her from the person that she loves.

April was when she finally realized the control he had over her. He kept texting her while she was watching her former cheer teams nationals and said "you need to go home", "you've been there long enough." She realized at that moment that he had control over her, knew her routine, class schedule, everything. But he wasn't even there? How could he tell her she had been there long enough? He can't just tell her to leave.

Jami moved home in May. Her dad asked "when is this going to end? You're home now, and you're safe". She decided it was time to end the toxic relationship. Her dad called him for her and did it. She blocked him from everything. Blocked his number and all social media.

At first, her abuser kept downloading different texting apps to get ahold of her. She still has them blocked... 21 different phone numbers… it took him four days to quit trying to contact her. He even called her work, and she wasn't convinced that he didn't have a fake Facebook stalking her.


The Abuse

Before the March incident, several things led up to that night… one of them was the night after her abuser got kicked out his dad's house. They went to get his stuff… loaded her car down and started the drive back to school. During the drive, he became irritated that she wasn't saying the "right things" about the situation. He punched her while she was driving. When they finally got home and parked… he hit her multiple times… she jumped out of her, even leaving the keys in the ignition. She ran and hid behind a big truck. She heard him take the keys out and slowly walk over… She asked him if he was going to hit her again and he said, "no it's going to be fine."

Another night she doesn't even remember why they started fighting… and he put her hands around her neck... the one thing she told him early on in this relationship she hated. He then threatened her, "What, are you scared? You don't think I could choke you out right now? I could kill you right now if I wanted to." With his hands around her neck… after he finally released his hands and calmed down he tried to have sex with her after. She pushed him off of her… he then went to the corner… and cried.

He had, what she thought, was a real gun in his glove compartment, turns out it was just an airsoft gun. One day she picked him up late for lunch… he kept trying to open the glove compartment where the gun was. There were several times she thought "he could kill me if he wanted to."

There were several nights after he hit her that they just went to sleep. And woke up, as if nothing ever happened.

The First Time

She said he had this look, "his eyes would be wide, and if I saw that, I knew I would be in trouble…"

The first time he hit her she was talking back to him and he slapped her. She didn't know what had just happened and she immediately started crying. He became clearly apologetic… "I don't know what came over me, I'm really sorry." Jami said, "Toward the end of the relationship he didn't care about apologizing because he knew that I wouldn't leave him."

These situations are only a few of the countless times Jami was mentally, physically and verbally abused by the man who was supposed to be the love of her life.

"Obviously hitting me would make me scared, but just the constant texting me when we weren't together telling me that when we got home he would beat me was such a scary thought because you would think I wouldn't want to go home, but I always felt like if I could get there in front of him then I could make things better and make the fighting stop."

Healing and Next Steps

"I had nightmares for months. I still, to this day nearly 5 years later, suffer from severe anxiety. I met my now husband just days after ending the relationship with my abuser. I was lucky to have someone like him by my side through every trial that came my way."

Yes, it's been years… but Jami is still trying to heal both emotionally and physically and get back to being that happy-go-lucky girl she was. She was 18-years-old. Innocent. That situation made her grow up and changed her life forever.

"I thought I was over this. I mean do you ever get over it?"

She had nightmares for a long time… looked around everywhere she was, constantly worried about running into him.

Advice to other Victims

"My advice to other victims would be to be aware of red flags and don't be afraid to walk away from something that does not feel right in your heart. It is never okay for your partner to delete innocent people from your phone because it makes them uncomfortable, to control where you go, who you are with, what you wear, or who you talk to. It is never okay for your partner to call you derogatory names, or tell you that no one will ever love you, or that you are worthless because someone will and you are not. It is NEVER okay for your partner to lay hands on you... even if it was only one time. It is not your fault, and you cannot change them. You have to do what is best for you, you cannot save anyone."

Jami embodies strength. She is a fighter. She has been knocked down time and time again and still, she rises. She was the one that got away… and so can you.

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