Free at last: LSS joins network that provides support to parolees who want to live clean and sober


Randy Brovold knows first-hand how important a support network is in addiction recovery. As a newly certified Peer Support Specialist for Free Through Recovery, a behavioral health program that increases recovery support services to individuals involved with the criminal justice system, he not only will help people struggling with addiction, but he can also use his experience to provide hope.

“The Lord guided me here,” Brovold said when explaining how he got involved with the program. “I went through addiction, and I’ve been a sober alcoholic for 10 years.”

Brovold reached this sobriety with support from Alcoholics Anonymous, and he also sponsors alcoholics. Now, as a Peer Support Specialist, he will serve parolees who struggle with addiction. “We’re here to help and guide people and get them back on the right track so that they can be a valuable citizen in the community,” Brovold said.

This work is important because re-integration into society is hard enough for a person with a prison record—much less a parolee grappling with addiction and/or mental illness. “When you have an addiction, you lose so much—your family, relationships, job, home,” Brovold said. “When you recover, you can get it back. It’s important—it’s just a better way of living.”

Peer Support Specialists like Brovold are integral in this recovery process. As people who have struggled with similar problems, Peer Support Specialists can share their life experiences with parolees and give them hope that they, too, may begin recovery and remain sober. “In my role, I can share my experience, strength, hope and how I did it,” Brovold said. “Because you can’t do it alone. In recovery, you need a support system, because addiction is not curable, but you can be in remission, and the success rate for staying sober is higher with a support network.”

Since Free Through Recovery’s launch last February, more than 500 parolees in North Dakota have signed up for the program, with many of its referrals—58 percent as of March—from Fargo. The popularity of the program points to the great need in the state for a program like this one.

Free Through Recovery is similar to programs already at work in other states. The program was initiated during the last legislative session in North Dakota in conjunction with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections. It was set up to specifically serve participants who have been involved with the criminal justice system and have mental-health or addiction issues.

It is up to parolees to make the effort to accept treatment and prevent recidivism, or re-offending. When they leave prison, each person’s parole officer tells them about Free Through Recovery, and they can choose to enroll. Once in the program, they are assigned a care coordinator who supports them and helps them in a variety of areas, including housing, employment, transportation, food stamps and mental health services. Care coordinators meet with parolees in person and over the phone. In addition, peer specialists like Brovold serve as another support person who can share their experiences and encouragement. Participants in the program can continue in the program for as long as they want.

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is one of the care providers in the state for Free Through Recovery. As a care provider, LSSND provides care coordinators and peer specialists for participants. The program is located in eight regions: Bismarck, Dickinson, Devils Lake, Grand Forks, Fargo, Minot and Williston; however, several of those regions still need their own care coordinators. Each region has a director, who receives monthly reports on parolees from each care coordinator.

The need in North Dakota for such a program is great, as parolees with mental health or addiction issues are typically under-served. Additionally, since many of them entered jail because of drug- or alcohol-related offenses, they are nonviolent. According to Elliott Kabanuk, who helped LSSND get going as a care provider and now serves as a care coordinator in Fargo, Jamestown and Minot, 66 percent of people in Free Through Recovery have both substance abuse disorders and mental health problems.

Kabanuk explained that Free Through Recovery is trying to provide a sober support network rather than relying on the “lock them up” philosophy that traditionally dominated our country’s criminal justice system. We are unable to build enough health facilities to treat people with addictions and mental health issues, Kabanuk said, because so much funding is needed to build and support correctional facilities.

“We need to treat drug addiction just like other diseases,” Kabanuk said. “When someone has a disease, you bring them to a hospital instead of a prison.”

Free Through Recovery provides the template for that road to recovery. An important point, though, is that recovery is a lifelong process. Kabanuk said, “Some people recover, some don’t, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to treat them.”

And importantly, those in the program are people who really want help. “Overall,” Kabanuk said, “the ones signing up are making an effort.” He added that because of the stigma surrounding previously incarcerated people, many have “doors slammed in their faces” when they attempt to contribute to the workforce.

Care coordinators like Kabanuk can help people find ways past those slammed doors through support and resources. Care coordinators do not need any particular training. “It’s just a matter of caring and being around, and being willing to listen,” Kabanuk said.

Those who help in the program do indeed care. Brovold said, “I’m not only helping people, but it also helps me see where I was before, which is important because if you forget history, it’s easy to go back. Like I said, I’ve been guided by God […] I just want to give back.”

To read more about the program, visit www.behavioralhealth.nd.gov/addiction/free-through-recovery or www.lssnd.org/what-we-do/therapy-services/free-through-recovery.html. Anyone interested in more information or in being a care coordinator can contact Elliott Kabanuk at elliottk@lssnd

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