Strive Clinician Leads Training in ‘SMART Recovery’ in Southern California prison system: ‘We give them back their humanity.’

For people living out a jail sentence, visits from family are a lifeline.

“When a visit doesn’t happen I get upset and then I get angry,” says one incarcerated person at the California Institution for Women (CIW), in Chino, California, “and when I get angry that’s when I want to get high.”

Triggers like this are plentiful for incarcerated people, including at this, the largest facility for women in California. So it was hardly surprising to Tatyana Vaynshteyn, Strive clinician, when she was invited here and to a nearby men’s institution last month to train CIW staff as part of an prison-specialized addiction treatment program called InsideOut.

"We challenge their beliefs, for better choices, but we do not disrepect them," Tatyana Vaynshtayn, Strive clinican
“We challenge their beliefs, to help them make better choices, but we do not disrepect them,” Tatyana Vaynshtayn, Strive clinican

Vaynshteyn has worked professionally with InsideOut, based on an approach called SMART Recovery, since its early days in 2002 and is considered one of SMART Recovery’s foremost practitioners and spokespeople…impressive, since today, InsideOut meetings are held in hundreds of correctional facilities worldwide. Indeed, as her training visit to the California facilities began, Tatyana joined Joe Gerstein president of Smart Recovery.

Tatyana, based at the Strive center in Paramus, NJ, trained staff last month at the womens’ facility in Chino, east of Lost Angeles (at one time named after a nearby town, Corona). The facility is on a sprawling campus crowded with low-slung buildings, at varying levels of security, set in what used to be desert. Today at Chino over 2000 people are incarcerated in a site built for 1400. For a long stretch, the women of the Manson gang were held at the Chino campus.

“InsideOut is different, and it is effective,” Tatyana says. “SMART Recovery doesn’t confront you with your mistakes. Incarcerated people are survivors, and have survivors’ skills, so we don’t disrespect them. We think of it as bringing humanity back to them.

Using Smart Recovery, Strive clinician Tatyana Vaynshtayn works with incarcerated people in California
Using Smart Recovery, Strive clinician Tatyana Vaynshtayn works with incarcerated people in California

“We show people that when they act out destructively, they are acting out their emotions and that in turn their emotions are based on their beliefs. Smart Recovery gives them tools to challenge those beliefs.”

We asked how that would work in the family visit no-show scenario.

She explains: “I will ask what they believe about the no-show, and they might say that it means the family member didn’t care. But there are other possibilities. Maybe someone was ill. Maybe the car is in the shop. Maybe there is a way you can reach out to them.”

Ultimately, Tatyana tells us, the goal is to give incarcerated people skills that will keep them out of jail for good, including teaching what the SMART Recovery approach calls “Life Balance.” Vaynshteyn is confident. “In our very first institutional program we worked with one hundred incarcerated people. After the program finished, incidents of acting out dropped by 40%. We think that achievement continues after they are released.”

Returning home,Tatyana gave us some last thoughts on the trip:

“We feel very good about it. The program participants were very insightful into their past behavior patterns and were able to formulate plans of action to avoid returning to their former lives.

“The women were amazing in how they were able to utilize the SMART tools to address past, current and future actions. The questions remains, what will the outcomes show in regards to their future upon release.”

 

CIW, the largest womens' correctional institution in California. "We challenge their beliefs, for better choices, but we do not disrepect them," Tatyana Vaynshtayn, Strive clinican trained staff to handle substance use and other issues
CIW, the largest womens’ correctional institution in California. “We challenge their beliefs, for better choices, but we do not disrepect them,” Tatyana Vaynshtayn, Strive clinican trained staff to handle substance use and other issues

While a fully-fledged Smart Recovery program is not currently offered at Strive facilities, in Paramus, SMART tools are often incorporated into treatment and followup. In the meantime, clients at Strive Paramus are fortunate to have Tatyana as an experienced and unique resource.

For more on SMART Recovery, we recommend the Smart Recovery website: www.smartrecovery.org.

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