(Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Steve Sherfey has spent the last 28 years putting people in jail, but a new partnership outside his full-time police officer duties is designed to help offenders stay out of jail.
Sherfey — a Johnson City police investigator by day and life skills counselor by night — and business partner Heather Moody, who has a background in teaching and social work, have joined forces in Linked Community Services LLC., a one-stop-shop for alcohol and drug counseling, anger and stress management, family counseling and driving instructions for juveniles and adults.
“We had worked together at another location on cases with Department of Children’s Services and teaching classes for at-risk youth,” Moody said. They worked so well together, the two decided to start their own business.
Moody and Sherfey use a program called REBT — Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy.
“All the programs we use are evidence-based,” Moody said, meaning there are statistics to back up the effectiveness of the program.
Several months ago, the two started teaching the program at the Washington County Detention Center to inmates who are three to six months from being released.
Sherfey said businesses also use REBT to teach employees how to think rationally.
And in terms of working with people in jail, the goal of changing how they think when faced with stressful situations or adversity is the key to changing how they react, he said.
Linked is getting referrals from Juvenile Court and probation offices when there is a recommendation for an anger class or alcohol and drug counseling.
“Juveniles have so much stress with life that we didn’t have growing up,” Moody said. “Anger is the easiest to display, and they get labeled with anger management problems. A lot of time we find it’s not so much anger management, but that it’s more stress.”
Sherfey and Moody both have worked with juveniles for a number of years and their love for that work is evident, as well as their desire to not just help an individual, but the whole family.
“We’re able to go in before the problem” gets worse, Moody said. “If a kid goes into custody, we’re able to work with the brother, sister, parents ... we’ll work with the whole family.”
Sherfey said when they see a drug and alcohol problem, it’s usually a symptom of something deeper.
“It’s not the core problem. When you can find what that is, you can address that. A lot of it is teaching them ways to think differently,” he said.
With the program implemented at the jail, the goal is to help the person become self-sufficient and productive instead of slipping back into criminal activity.
“We go in and teach Smart Recovery and Inside Out. We start with their coping skills, drug and alcohol, trying to get their mind set to change,” Sherfey said. “The only thing different between people in jail and people out of jail is their thinking process.”
But just like working with a juvenile and their whole family, the jail program doesn’t stop with just the inmate.
“We find a lot of times the families have a lot of stuff going on which will affect the person getting out of jail,” Sherfey said. “It’s a big step for them.”
Sherfey said that of the county inmates who have completed the corrections program Linked has offered, none have re-offended.
As far as the program’s costs, Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal plans to seek full funding from the County Commission.
“We have a line item for these kind of things so we went to the Public Safety and Budget committees and asked them to pull $2,000. We’ll go to the commission next week” for additional funding, Graybeal said.
“This programs seems like it’s really good and we want to give it a chance. I think it will work really good with the individuals who want to do something with their life,” Graybeal said.
Sherfey said changing the way people think, which changes they way the act and react, is a key to keeping them from going back to jail. In turn, it saves more money than teaching the program.
“I try to stress this — it costs around $1,000 a day to keep somebody in jail,” according to FBI statistics, Sherfey said. “It’s been a revolving cycle. Ninety percent of crime is drug- and alcohol-related. If you don’t address that, it’s just a revolving door.”
In addition to the Linked program, inmates also have access to GED classes, AA, Project Hope, a parenting group, Families Free, the Gideons and weekly church services.