They have restarted their lives from scratch. During the last two years, 27 detainees, who were struggling with drug addiction, have passed a rehabilitation program within the Therapeutic Community ”Catharsis”, in order to subsequently be able to reintegrate into society, return to their families and get a job. Iurie, Alexander and Dan, three former residents of the community, say that rehabilitation was a difficult process, but, apart from that, has helped them change their priorities, gain confidence and overcome the obstacles, which always seemed impossible to overcome.
Iurie went to learn about the activities of the Therapeutic Community “Catharsis” for the first time, maintaining a serious dose of skepticism, Alexander went there because he knew they have coffee and Dan had undergone the entire process once, but firmly decided it was worth another shot. From that moment on their lives took turns, which they could have never even hoped for.
– The Therapeutic Community “Catharsis” for persons detained in the penitentiaries of the Republic of Moldova was launched in July 2018, within the Penitentiary Nr. 9 – Pruncul, as an instrument of decreasing reoffending and reintegrating these particular persons into society.
– The community’s program is strict and includes group sessions, individual counseling, work therapy, self-awareness activities and self-development activities.
– The activity of the Community is ensured by penitentiary employees, together with other employees and volunteers from P.O. “Positive Initiative”.
“Enough! It can’t go on like this”
Iurii Savcenco (35 years old) was in a penitentiary institution, when he heard that a friend of his no longer drinks, smokes and that, in general, he has put an end to all the vices he had. He had known this man for many years, he knew that he was a heavy drug user and particularly of hard drugs, so he was truly amazed. At first, he didn’t believe him. Then, he learned more about the Association “Positive Initiative” and became interested.
“The first time I went there, it was something unusual for me, like an explosion of emotions and sensations. I saw myself as part of a team, a family. I have not felt such unity and comfort for a long time. It’s something I’ve been lacking for many years”, remembers Iurie.
He started attending that group and later, he found out that a community is being launched, where he will be able to go through rehabilitation.
“I was skeptical about that. My friend Alexander went there, but I kept my distance, although I still went and talked to them, I asked them what they were doing there. After a while, I began to think more and more about what was going on in the community. It was a thought that did not leave my mind. I have wanted to change my life for many years. All these 16 years I was thinking “- Iura, that’s enough, you can’t goon like this. You must have different life. You were not born to be in prison all your life.” That’s why I decided that I want to go through rehabilitation”, adds Iurie.
He had half a year left until his release date, and he thought that if he didn’t like something, he could leave at any time.
Gradually, the skepticism decreased and Iurie started feeling himself as well as in the middle of a family. Like when you go to a place where you are expected and you can feel the comfort of that space. He was glad he had gone there. And he is happy that he managed to pass the rehabilitation program successfully.
Iurie has been imprisoned three times for theft charges. The first time he got there he was 17 years old. After his release, he stayed on the outside for only three months, finding it quite difficult to get a job and integrate into society. When potential employers were finding out he has been in prison, they replied that they did not need such workers. Thus, he ended up in prison for the second time, and after that, he was at freedom for only a month. The same scheme: no documents, no work, no possibility to rent a room. He had been released in January and ended up directly on the street, starving and cold.
His relationship with relatives remained difficult, so the option of going to them was ruled out. Iurie had last seen his mother before he was imprisoned for the first time. She had warned him that if he ended up behind bars, she would not come to visit him. And so she did. When he was imprisoned for the second time, he learned that his mother had died. His father had left Moldova in 1998 and Iurie found out about his death during his last incarceration.
Now, Iurie has been released again and thanks to the therapy and help offered by specialists, he claims that he managed to change his way of life. “I came out of there a new man, a changed man. Rules and principles are very important for me now. When I meet my old acquaintances today, they ask me whether I am part of a sect (laughs). And I tell them, let it be a sect, call it whatever you want, but I’m different now. I am no longer that tyrant and aggressor, whom was in prison. Even when I was being released, I was not the best person. I get goosebumps when I think about my rehabilitation and how I came back to talk to others about it. I used to go in and out of prison all my life, and now I’m out for good”, adds Iurie smiling.
Today, Iurie has documents, a job, a wife and will soon have a child. He says he still learns a lot on the go, but he enjoys the turn his life has taken.
“I am renting an apartment. I have different life. I work for a young, growing company and I like what I do. I work with glass and it’s something completely new, because I had only worked with wood before. I have worked and am still working a lot on myself. It has been difficult, but who said it would be easy?”, he adds.
Iurie’s future projects are based on three aspects: to build a house, to grow in the field he started working and to raise his son properly.
“I’ve never been sober for so long”
Alexander Biac (37 years old) ended up in prison for theft and drugs, when he was 18 years old. The trip to the therapeutic community started with rumors launched among detainees regarding the group activities carried out by the Association “Positive Initiative”.
“I was not really interested in finding out what they were talking about there, it’s just that I didn’t have coffee at the time and I knew they were bringing it. So I went there for that”, says Alexander laughing. But, as he sat there and listened to what was being discussed, he became interested. “I saw the people who came there and told us about how they live now, what a normal and beautiful life they have and I was impressed”, he adds.
He agreed to go through the rehabilitation course, because, just like Iurie, he was tired of prison and wanted to change his life. He especially thought of the time he had wasted, while being absent from his children’s lives. However, the difficulties were not so much related to the initial decision as to the process that followed.
“Everything was difficult, because my way of life before the community was 100% different. It was hard to follow the rules, it was hard to set certain goals, it was hard to speak in a decent manner, it was hard to be sober for so long.
In my experience, I have never been sober for so long, I always used to do drugs or drink alcohol. I had to use something, because otherwise life seemed gray to me. It was hard for me to fight the aggression that had formed since I have been in prison, it was hard for me to help someone, because I was always waiting for someone to help me. Everything was difficult for me”, confesses Alexander.
For him, things ended suddenly and unexpectedly. One day, he was told that he could go home, as he was being released on parole. “I was the leader of the therapeutic community and at that moment I felt the joy of liberation, on the one hand, and on the other hand I was sad and melancholic, because I became close to the people in the community. However, I held on, I already had goals and I wanted to get out and work”, he pointed out.
Later, Alexander became an employee of the Therapeutic Community “Catharsis” and emphasizes this as a paradox – he spent 15 years in prison, always wanting to get out and, eventually, it became his working place. On the other hand, he likes to work in that space, because the environment is a well-known one, respectively – he feels relaxed.
Alexander is currently working at the “Positive Initiative”, he is a social worker and “peer to peer” consultant. The pandemic has changed certain parts of his work scheme, but now it has more time to think about more efficient strategies and ways of working. He says that he really wants to study – to get a bachelor degree and then to enroll into university, but also to get a driver’s license in the near future.
“I have also set some time limits for that. Another big dream of mine is to have my own house and build a better relationship with my older daughter. The relationship with her is more complicated, as I have been missing for many years. Of course, it’s hard to start over, I haven’t been the best person…But I am trying. I have three other girls in whose upbringing I am involved and little by little, I am learning to arrange my life”, he concludes.
“I realized that you must not depend on someone’s opinion and standards”
Dan (36 years old) ended up behind bars in 2016, due to his drug addiction. He was convicted for drug trafficking, but states that he was doing it primarily to obtain his daily dose.
He knew about the therapeutic community and what was going on there, but initially he had doubts about joining it. “The influence of the criminal subculture, which probably exists in all penitentiaries, was an obstacle for me. This thing was not approved and could even be dangerous at some point. However, after my father’s death, certain circumstances changed and I realized that I wanted to join the community, regardless of the consequences. So I took this step”, says Dan.
He also considers that the rehabilitation process was a difficult one. He found the routine, the monotony and the daily schedule, which had to be followed strictly, especially hard to cope with. Apart from that, however, he says that he benefited from everything that went on there and he would never have imagined how many opportunities will open up before him afterwards.
“I knew that I would pass the program once again, that maybe I would learn to cope with my drug addiction better and that I would battle the degradation from detention, but the fact that I would change my attitude towards life, towards people, that I will find my vocation, that I will be employed in the penitentiary, I will have a salary, and for that my term will be reduced – these are things that exceeded all my expectations, things that I could not even dream of”, says Dan.
Then, he adds that the therapy helped him discover the source of some vulnerabilities and problems, which led to drug addiction and consumption. As a result, he managed to reconcile with himself, became more open and authentic. “In many cases, drugs are a refuge and I understood why these things were happening to me. I received counseling, I had access to psycho-social assistance and together we worked on those issues, and consequently I was able to completely change the direction of my life”, adds Dan, who managed, by the way, to set a precedent. He started providing translation and content management services, even when he was behind bars, thus having the prospect of getting employed after his release.
At the same time, Dan managed to discover his vocation – writing and, especially, the fact that he can turn his life experience into something useful for other people. “There are many other people who face similar problems – drug use, detention, criminal lifestyle and I understood the essence of many factors that lead to them. Respectively, I think I can turn my experience into something useful for others. I have a message for people, I can help them and I have the skills to express myself, to send the message properly to them, which I intend to do”, the man emphasizes.
Dan wants to write a book about the things he went through, about detention, drugs and the lessons he learned along the way “with a little suffering, a little pain and a few hardships”. That way, he wants to help other people avoid the problems he had to go through.
“By far the most important lesson I have learned is that freedom is a strictly internal thing, that it does not depend on external factors, on the high fences of the penitentiaries. Freedom is something that originates in one’s mentality and soul. It’s absolutely fine to be the way you are, to think the way you want to, it’s very important to be authentic, as long as you don’t harm anyone and respect other people’s boundaries. You must not depend on someone’s opinion and standards. For me, this is true freedom.
I would add that it is very important to be able to ask for help. All people face difficulties of various nature and you can’t always cope alone, it’s important not to allow pride to stop you from asking for help. It’s absolutely natural and it’s good to have people in your entourage who can support you, people who can guide you, who can share their experience with you”, he says.
Dan also states that it was not very difficult for him to reintegrate into society, as he made a lot of effort not to get used to life in prison, to the principles, values and the mentality of that environment. “I put a lot of effort into maintaining my integrity in that environment and I’m very proud of that – no important aspect of my personality was affected. So, my transition back was a relatively easy one”, he reflects.
Now, Dan is going to do a master’s degree in English Translation and Interpretation, he wants to write his book in the next two years, to develop his career and to dedicate himself to changing things for the better in society.
“R. Moldova needs more rehabilitation programs”
Head of the Department of Activities for persons in conflict with the law at P.O. “Positive Initiative” and psychologist Ina Vutcariov says that the rehabilitation program offered by the Community “Catharsis” helps detainees to minimize crime-related risks and that Moldova needs more rehabilitation programs for people, who struggle with addictions, both inside and outside the penitentiary institutions.
“The problem of drug use is deeply associated with a criminal way of life. They intersect – you can’t be a drug user and a responsible citizen, a good parent, and so on. You must solve the problem of drug use in order to live normally in a society.
The rehabilitation program for consumers offers the possibility for them to overcome their addiction and minimize crime-related risks. We need as many rehabilitation programs as possible for addicted people who are both at freedom and in prison”, says Vutcariov.
In the same context, the P.O. “Positive Initiative” representative adds that Moldova needs to invest more in a healthy vision regarding addiction and in informing society about how it works.
“The discrimination and arrogance towards consumers ends when you personally encounter a problem like this and have to cope with it. More prevention programs for young people and teenagers are necessary. Then, of course, the attitude towards those who deal drugs and promote drug use must be very severe”, concludes Ina Vutcariov.
So far, 27 detainees have benefited from the services of the Therapeutic Community “Catharsis”, of which 8 have been released and have not relapsed.
Translation: Dan Erușevschi