The single mother of four grown children took a bus from Ardmore to Oklahoma City about five months ago, returning to the small acreage near Lake Stanley Draper where women go to get help for drug and alcohol addiction.
After 15 years of alcoholism, Amy (not her real name) came to the facility, which eventually helped her achieve 30 months of sobriety before relapsing earlier this year.
Now she's back on the road to recovery.
"If it wasn't for this place I'd probably be in prison or dead," the 53-year-old Amy said recently with world-weary eyes and a genuine smile. "They saved my life."
OKC Metro Alliance Inc. is a local nonprofit corporation founded in 1973 to administer the Oklahoma City Police Department's Public Inebriate Alternative (PIA) facility. The agency also began work-recovery programs for men in 1987 and women in 1989.
The program is very structured, and the clients keep the campground-style grounds pristine. Visitors are asked to keep clients' identities confidential. For this story, the clients' names were changed or only first names were used to protect identities.
The agency's mission is to assist Oklahomans who want to recover from substance abuse by providing long-term residential work recovery and offering an alternative to incarceration for public intoxication.
"Substance abuse and alcoholism doesn't fit one class of people. It cuts across all economic and societal lines," said Ann Simank, executive director of OKC Metro Alliance and former Ward 6 Oklahoma City councilwoman. "Most of the people who come in for long-term residential care have lost their jobs. Some have lost their families. They're kind of on their last leg with us."
Better than jail
The Oklahoma City PIA program, located in an old firehouse at 211 N. Walnut Ave., is one-of-a-kind in the state and one of very few in the nation, Simank said.
Seattle, Portland, Ore. and San Diego are the only other major metropolitan areas that offer such programs, she said.
"The city of New Orleans is working with us right now to emulate this program," Simank said. "It saves taxpayer dollars because police officers are not spending their time with nonviolent, inebriated people. They are able to drop them off here in a safe environment to sober up, and it keeps expensive, overcrowded jail space available for criminals that are committing crimes that hurt other people."
Only adults who have been arrested for public intoxication, but have not committed any other crime, are eligible. If detained, individuals spend 10 hours in detention, where they can sober up and eat a free meal in a clean, safe place. After the detention period, they are released without criminal charges or a record of arrest.
The program is good for those who imbibe too much and an overwhelmed legal system, said James Gist, a 13-year detention monitor.
"It benefits all parties," Gist said.
Sporting events, concerts and New Year's Eve are busy times. Sometimes fights break out, said Bruce Migliaccio, a new detention clerk.
"You get conflicting personalities," he said. "You try to be a diplomatic as possible."
Next summer the PIA will move to a new facility west of downtown Oklahoma City on the corner of Linwood and Virginia, in a renovated building paid for with Oklahoma City bond funds, Simank said. The expansion will feature bed space for 60 men and 35 women.
Developers plan to demolish the old firehouse and build a hotel, Simank said.
Working toward recovery
Firstep Men's Recovery Center, 11601 W. Stanley Draper Drive, is a six-month work-recovery facility for men. There are no charges or fees to attend, but right now there is a month-long waiting list.
The clients work six days a week while attending 12-step meetings every night, Simank said.
"Everyone works a job," she said. "It helps people that have been involved in addictions learn how to get up, get clean, get dressed, become responsible and feel good about themselves again by going to work and learning how to live a productive life."
Clients " referred to the facility by drug courts, doctors or their own volition " work for $8 per hour, which goes directly to pay for their room and board.
A "contract estimator" performs skill assessments when clients first move in. OKC Metro Alliance works with more than 300 public and private entities that employ the clients, acting as a temp agency of sorts.
Clients live in dormitory housing and are bussed to work each day. In addition to the nightly 12-step meetings, their evening schedules might include small-group discussions and therapy from licensed mental health professionals contracted by the agency.
Stephen (not his real name), 37, works as a facility monitor. He recently graduated from the program after stints in five different rehabs since 1992. A chef, he ran the facility's kitchen as a client. He said taking ownership of his work and program gave him a sense of pride.
"Most of the guys who come in here had a career in one way or another," he said. "They were in pretty low places at the depth of their addictions. And for them to have an opportunity to come back to somewhere where they're given the opportunity to ply their trade again " that's worth a lot."
The Firstep Women's Recovery Center, a nine-month program located at 12511 S. Sooner Road, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 21 for its new $500,000 dormitory, which will house 56 women next spring when new wastewater improvements are completed. The dormitory was made possible through a $324,000 grant from BancFirst and FHLBank Topeka, Simank said.
Other private charitable foundations that gave to the project were Sarkeys, the Kirkpatrick Family Fund, the Kerr Foundation, Rusty Noble and the Bilby Foundation, the Inasmuch Foundation and the Rotary Club of South Oklahoma City.
Grants make up a large part of OKC Metro Alliance's $1.4 million annual operating budget, Simank said.
Niki, a client since July, works in the on-site greenhouse. Having never gardened before, Niki said she hopes to make it her profession someday.
Niki recently grew her first pineapple. Watching the fruit bloom gave her hope, she said.
"Dream big. I like big," Niki said. "This place is vital to so many people."
For more information, visit www.okcmetroalliance.com or call 232-1864.
The toll of substance abuse
What does substance abuse cost the United States?
$14.4 billion per year.
What does substance abuse cost Oklahoma?
Nearly $6 billion per year: $1.4 billion in direct costs to business, government and the people; and $4.4 billion in indirect costs.
In Oklahoma, drug and alcohol addiction contributes to:
85 percent of all homicides.
80 percent of all prison incarcerations.
75 percent of all divorces.
65 percent of child abuse cases.
55 percent of all domestic abuse assaults.
50 percent of all traffic fatalities.
35 percent of all rapes.
33 percent of all suicides.
Source: OKC Metro Alliance Inc.
photo Detention monitors James Gist (right) and Bruce Migliaccio work at OKC's Public Inebriate Alternative. Photo/Brendan Hoover
photo Niki, a client at the Firstep Women's Recovery Center, works in the on-site greenhouse. Photo/Brendan Hoover