Garfield County inmate volunteer program returns in person
Someone buzzes Joadie Griebel through a Garfield County Jail bondsman door. An intake worker checks her identification card. Her belongings go in a locker. Inmate Programs coordinator Charlie Pearce waves a metal-detector wand over her body.
Soon, Griebel retrieves a supply bucket. In that bucket are a number of books, including the Holy Bible and step-by-step programs. Her job is to use the scripture — as well as personal experience — to help guide inmates onto a better path.
“I have a long history with this jail,” Griebel said. “I used to come in and out over a span of years, with heavy addiction to meth, homeless.”
“These guys have seen a lot of me.”
Griebel participates in the inmate volunteer program, an amenity that offers Garfield County Jail inmates opportunities to better themselves; to seek God, wean themselves away from addiction and become better people.
But the face-to-face conversations that typically furnish these programs were put on hold for the past two years due to COVID-19 protocols, and only earlier this month were volunteers once again allowed to return in person.
For Griebel, a former inmate who sought God after her last release, she was overwhelmed with excitement her first day back.
“I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, I went to Jehovah’s Witness, I went to whatever was coming in,” she said. “I would go in and sit, because it was just a time of normalcy.
“It was a time where you’d gotten off the drugs and you started getting clear-headed.”
There are three inmate pods at the Garfield County Jail: Two for men and one for women. About 107 inmate volunteers used to visit each one regularly pre-COVID-19 pandemic. Now that number has tapered to about 30, Pearce said, with numbers slowly starting to return.
It’s a small but promising figure.
“Volunteers are kind of the sunshine,” she said.
A fellow volunteer is Jehovah’s Witness John Rash. He also offers scripture as a way to change inmates’ lives. Sometimes, it’s talking about money issues. Other times, talking about not drinking in excess, he said.
The pandemic also kept people like Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Jeff (his last name is omitted out of respect to the program’s devotion to anonymity) from conducting in-person meetings at the jail. No meetings meant no inmates trying to sign up for sponsorships — a powerful tool used in the 12-step program to encourage sobriety.
Being back means Jeff also gets to once again have private, unrecorded visits with inmates, he said.
“I just get to sit there with a young man who’s raised in the cartels, who’s here on murder charges, and to see the tears come into his eyes,” he said. “It’s not my actual business what’s going on inside this gentleman, but I get to join him on his journey. I get to participate in that.”
A lot of the inmates are younger and their stays are relatively brief, maybe 10 or 15 days. That can mean volunteers don’t always have a lot of time to make a connection.
Garfield County Corrections Officer Sgt. James Brassfield said his only concern is that some of these younger short-timers aren’t participating enough in the inmate volunteer program.
Brassfield said the programs being back in person generally help longer-term inmates.
“They’re getting all the long-term people that understand what programs do,” he said. “But how many miss because they’re only here for a week?”
It’s a long process, but it’s something Griebel truly believes in.
She knows — he’s been there, she said.
“I have a testimony of what happened, that they can do it,” she said. “I’m just going to keep telling them that they’re going to make it.”
People interested in becoming a Garfield County Inmate Volunteer can visit http://www.garcosheriff.com/detention_programs.html or contact Charlie Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-945-0453, ext. 1011.
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