Drug abuse and mental health

Offender programs help people find redemption

Offender programs help people find redemption

Haywood County native Robert Guinn leads a fairly normal life these days. He has a good attitude, a fulfilling job, a good circle of friends and loves bragging on his 14-year-old daughter.

“She has straight A’s and perfect attendance in school. I’m so proud,” he said.

But just two years ago, Guinn’s life was very different. For most of the time he was in his 30s, he said he was on drugs, had no home, fought with his wife and others, didn’t see his children and had no future. He never imagined he’d have custody of his daughter again.

“I thought I’d never have her live with me again after what I did,” he said.

Going through the substance abuse and domestic violence programs offered through Meridian Behavioral Health Services is what turned Guinn’s life around.   

“When I came into recovery two and a half years ago, my house was being foreclosed, I had signed over my kids’ custody through DSS so they wouldn’t go into the foster system, I had no vehicle — had to walk everywhere in Haywood County — and I was still shooting up dope,” Guinn said.

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He said the program he went through at Meridian was the greatest gift he could have ever received. The program, which includes individual and group therapy sessions, forced him to evaluate his own belief systems — good ones and bad ones he developed throughout his life. Guinn said he quickly discovered the way he was operating in life didn’t align with the person he wanted to be. Once he changed his behavior to match the person he aspired to be inside, his perspective and goals changed.

“What the program gave me was a functioning life — it taught me to quit using drugs and fighting everybody. It taught me how to have healthy relationships with my ex-wife and kids,” he said.

After completing the Meridian programs, Guinn went to work for Meridian as a peer specialist to help others change their lives for the better. As a peer, Guinn sits in on the group sessions to offer a firsthand perspective for clients going through situations similar to what he found himself in two years ago. While clinicians running the groups are trained professionals, Guinn’s presence provides a bridge between the client and provider.

“I use my experience on both sides dealing with clinicians and also living the life most of them came from. I share my experience and how I got to where I am and I encourage them to listen to the clinicians,” Guinn said. “Sometimes they feel like if you didn’t experience it, you don’t know how to get out of it. But I can share my personal life history and bring credibility and hope to them.”

Guinn knows the other clients in the program don’t have to always be where they are — he knows people can change because he changed. That’s why he’s dedicated to supporting others and why he’s a strong advocate for the offender programs offered through Meridian.

If Meridian has to discontinue the offender programs because of a lack of funding, the only other option for many offenders is more jail time. Some may think that’s the best place for them to be, but Guinn disagrees.

“Prison is not the answer for any of it. Separating a portion of the population out of society where they aren’t making a living and can’t interact with society only perpetuates the problem,” he said.

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