RICHMOND, Va. — Inmates in the Richmond City Justice Center’s Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles (REAL) program now have something to look forward to when they leave the Virginia jail. Graduates from the REAL program, which approaches life behind bars like a full-time job with chores, coursework and deadlines, now get the opportunity to live in what’s dubbed the “REAL House” together as they begin the re-entry process.
The first recovery house for the REAL Life program, the REAL program’s outside nonprofit, opened on May 16 in the city’s South Side Blackwell neighborhood. The goal of the home is to help inmates continue their recovery process, reported Richmond Times-Dispatch. By providing a bridge between jail life and being a member of the community, the house can help inmates from returning to past environments that encourage bad habits.
“The REAL House will be a wonderful compliment to our program,” said Sarah Huggins Scarbrough, PhD, internal program director for Richmond Sheriff’s Office. “Finding our men [and women] housing is one of the toughest parts of my job. We already have great relationships with many recovery programs in the community; however, adding this option is a needed answer due to continued housing shortages we face almost daily.”
The two-story REAL House was created through a partnership with Mike Tillem, the founder of the Journey House, a company that already runs five other recovery houses. Tillem, an ex-addict who also spent time in prison years ago, will lead daily operations at the REAL House. He also helped fix up the yard and the interior of the house. It was recently updated with new wood floors and fresh coats of paint. The exterior is white with blue trim, while the inside is baby blue with white and brown trim, reported Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“I wasn’t arrested; I was rescued,” Tillem said. “[Once I got out of prison,] I saw a need for recovery housing to help guys coming out. If it wasn’t for me having a support system in place, I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am today. That’s why I do what I do. These guys all need a chance.”
The REAL House provides bed space for two house managers — currently Charles Greene and Antonio Ingram who are also both recovering addicts — as well as six or seven other men who graduate from the REAL program, Tillem said. The residents occupying the house are required to keep the house clean, do community service and get a job. Once they get a job, they must pay $135 a week towards rent. They are also required to purchase their own food. Not only that, they have a curfew and must sign out whenever they leave the house, and they must complete about six months of REAL program coursework during their time in the house, according to the Richmond Free Press.
While the house provides a sense of home and stability for inmates re-entering society, it also serves as a meeting spot for other alumni of the program. Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous, prayer groups and group therapy are all head here to help program members. Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. frequents the house often to be a part of the meetings.
“You have different levels of people coming out,” said Tillem. “You can’t be everything to everyone, so my program is for people who want it, not just ones who need it. My biggest goal is to replace crack houses with recovery houses, and I’m doing that one house and one neighborhood at a time.”