The Long Walk, ISUDT: Restoring Shattered Mirrors

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By Ricky Ortega

Life without parole; for many it’s a point of no return. Where mortal man, stripped of their ambitions, stands naked and alone to face the meaning of life. Where mirrors are the windows to the soul, speaking words of truth we’d rather not hear.

Those serving life without parole are often met with new challenges unique to our circumstances. For some, it can become a breeding ground for substance abuse. Searching for an escape from reality, they plunge the needle deep into their veins. One more push should do it, they convince themselves; one more drink, one more pill. Whatever it takes to cure the sickness that screams inside them. But relief comes at a price, often more than they bargained for. As hope dissolves into the bottom of a syringe, the only thing that’s left is an appetite for destruction.

This series of articles will take a closer look at how those who are sentenced to die in prison are facing new challenges in a land where the sun never rises, in a house made of shattered mirrors.

According to ISUDT Insider, May 2022 edition, it is estimated that 70% of CDCR inmates have a SUD (Substance Use Disorder). “It’s a disease of the brain and can be thought of in a similar way as we think about SMI (Serious Mental Illness),” sources said. “As of January, 2022, the Department screened more than 64,000 people for SUD and prescribed MAT (Medicated Assistance Treatment) to nearly 22,558 individuals. California’s prison system has become the largest MAT provider among jails and prisons in the country,” stated in the July 2022 edition. These are staggering results to a complex issue sweeping the CDCR and the entire country. But the ISUDT is answering the call.

Randy Rizzo has been serving a life without parole sentence for 33 years and has been dealing with a substance use disorder his entire adult life. “I was spinning out of control before entering the MAT program in June 2020 when it was initiated here at Mule Creek,” admitted Rizzo. “I was tired of going down that path and tired of hurting the people who care about me. I knew that going into this program, I was only going to get out of it what I was willing to put in. Now, although today is always the hardest day, thanks to the help I received from this program, I can honestly say it was the smartest decision I ever made.”

As part of the CDCR’s war on substance use disorder, the ISUDT (Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment) has set up a hands-on approach to the impact of this epidemic; an Action/Treatment Plan that provides offenders with medicated assistance, random UDS for accountability, participation in groups three times weekly and extensive homework in criminal conduct and substance abuse.

Timothy Junker has been serving a life without parole sentence for 32 years. “It was hard for me to take life seriously knowing that I would die in prison so I set out to stay as high as possible,” admitted Junker. “That’s a feeling I still struggle with today but things changed for me the day my cell mate died from an overdose. Things changed in my head. The finality of him dying only 90 days before he went home made death more of a reality for me. That hit me pretty hard,” confessed Junker.

In the ISUDT Insider, July 2022 edition, it states, “Reports by CCHCS and CDCR show significant reductions in overdose hospitalizations and deaths by 58% in 2019 while access to SUD treatment rapidly expanded inside California prisons.” Ike Dodson, Information Officer II. Yes, the results are in; thanks in large part to the opportunities provided by the ISUDT programs.

As one of the first graduates of the MAT programs here at Mule Creek, Rizzo earned Certificates of Participation in Helping Men Recover a program for treating Addiction, Peer leadership for Trip and Straight Ahead, Victims Impact, Thinking for Change & Parenting Inside Out. Perhaps it’s not the Nobel Peace Prize but it’s a solid foundation in which to build a new life. “I had to be accountable for my actions in this program and that made a difference for me,” stated Rizzo.

Junker found the answers to his addiction by means of a friend’s death but he found assistance in the MAT program. Together, he has been able to put the pieces of his life back together. “I was hired as a PIA Production Clerk where I found the incentive to live a clean life and deal with responsibility that was placed on my shoulders. I mattered to my employer and my co-workers. It’s different when people depended on me,” stated Junker.

Those serving life without parole have a different outlook on life. They are looking at their reflection in shattered mirrors, cracked and weathered by the hands of time. These mirrors reveal a broken image of the person we used to be. However, programs like the ISUDT are opening doors to the future of those once shackled to their addictions; for those once locked inside a house of shattered mirrors.

Ricky Ortega is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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