And she received a gift so precious, it’s hard for her to put into words: her freedom.
She lost that freedom 40 months ago after being ordered to serve an eight-year prison sentence for fourth-offense DUI and several related convictions. Clark flattened her time, so she won’t be on probation or parole after her release.
She knows the road ahead won’t be easy, but she has several reasons she’s determined to make it, including her three children, but most importantly, herself.
“I tried to do it for my family, I tried to do it for my kids,” Clark said recently about her sobriety. Neither of those attempts worked.
“Finally, I had to do it for myself. I got to a point in my life I was fed up. I didn’t want to live the way I was living,” she said. “I wanted to change my life and be a better person. I had to get to a point where I had to be selfish and do it for myself ... and say this is what I want.”
She said knowing what she knows now, she would do the jail time all over again if she had to in order to get to where she is today.
“I let go of a lot of guilt and shame I was carrying around that kept me sick for so long .... and learned how to deal with it and move forward and be the strong woman I know I can be. I learned to set small goals and to live for today,” she said.
Clark and 30 other female state inmates at the city jail recently graduated from a program called InsideOut, a corrections-based program that gives participants a foundation for addiction recovery and allows them to learn and develop skills to recognize their addition triggers, ways to cope with urges and manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Jail Superintendent Amy Clark — no relation to Carri Clark — said she has already seen the positive impact and change the program has had in the jail.
She had sought a recovery program for the jail, but needed a way to pay for it.
Enter Catalyst for Change, a non-profit health-services organization in Johnson City.
The organization sponsors the InsideOut program, meaning it doesn’t cost the city any money to offer it to inmates, the superintendent said.
“Our biggest thing is safety and security for the inmates, but we’re not doing them any favors by locking them up in a cell all day,” Amy Clark said. That’s why each of the 88 inmates at the city jail work a job every day, but it goes further than that, she said.
“I want to see more successful programs in the facility,” she said. “If you just lock them up in a cell, what tools are you giving them to be successful individuals when they’re released? This way, not only are they paying their debt to society, but they’re also able to grow while incarcerated.”
A program synopsis provided by the jail notes that program participants are not labeled as an alcoholic or a drug addict. InsideOut follows the same recovery principles as Smart Recovery, a Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy-based addiction recovery and relapse prevention program and “is based on the fact that as human beings we all have the capacity to change. Being addicted to a substance does not make a person evil; it only means the person does not have the necessary skills to live a happy and productive life. Smart Recovery teaches the individual these skills.”
Two other women in the program, Tiffany Clegg and Heather Callahan, said the program taught them to set small goals for themselves and to work toward those instead of focusing on the larger picture in their lives and what lies ahead.
Clegg, 29, of Knoxville, is serving eight years for selling cocaine. The hardest thing she’s had to learn is life isn’t just about her. “It’s not my world my way,“ she said. That’s how she approached life before her conviction, but being incarcerated, and more precisely, going through InsideOut, Clegg has learned how to not just take, but also to give.
Sure, she was able to provide for her three children, but it came at a cost because she was arrested after selling cocaine to a police informant. She now sees she has the drive and intellect to steer clear from selling drugs. She’s working on her GED, and hopes to attend college.
Superintendent Clark said Clegg was the top student in InsideOut. Participants work at their own pace, and Clegg whizzed through it in five months. But she didn’t put the books away. Instead, she’s continuing to attend the weekly InsideOut meetings to further her recovery and prepare for her eventual release.
“I refuse to be a statistic,” Clegg said.
Callahan, 31, from Bristol, Tenn., said she was involved in a methamphetamine conspiracy only a short time before she was arrested in Sullivan County.
“I had never been in trouble,” and getting entangled in meth was her first step into the drug world; she said she actually was relieved when she got arrested. She started the InsideOut program about a year ago when she was first transferred from the Sullivan County Jail to the Johnson City facility.
Callahan said she came from a good, solid family with loving parents and siblings.
“I was a cheerleader in high school,” she said, and said she started using meth after getting out of a bad marriage and having no direction.
If she hadn’t been arrested?
“I don’t know where I’d be,” she said last week. She has taken the skills she learned in InsideOut and already applied them to her life in jail.
Callahan said once she has finished serving her four-year sentence in December, she’ll be on probation for another six years, but she’s confidant she can complete that successfully with the skills she’s learned over the past year.
I can’t say that before I came here I’d be able to do that,“ Callahan said, referring to her completion of InsideOut. ”I’m learning structure again ... I don’t need (drugs) to maintain a life. (InsideOut) probably saved my life ... it brought me back to why I started using.“
Superintendent Clark said a second class of InsideOut has 32 inmates participating. With the two classes, more than half the jail population has participated in the voluntary program, she said.