I signed up for RDAP thinking it would be a piece of cake. Inmate alums had shown me their journals and they looked simple enough, all about ‘rational thinking’ and ‘thinking errors’. If my law degree prepared me for anything, I thought, it is this: scribbling semi-reasoned, rational-sounding answers to basic questions.
Plus, all I really had was the year off on my mind – getting out and back to my family was what I was focused on. Any actual treatment would be welcome but incidental. After all, I had AA for that.
“Ees ees very hard progam,” my prison friend Pablo told me. “You will be struggle. I be struggled.”
Not me, I thought to myself, with my pre-RDAP arrogance, attributing his difficulty to the language barrier.
Not long after his and my talk, I was accepted into the program and transferred to the RDAP camp. And from the very first moment, I struggled. Boy, did I struggle.
What I didn’t know going in was that, while important, the journals are something of an afterthought. “It’s a fifth-grade program that takes a PhD in willingness,” one of the counsellors told our group. What is paramount is the ‘therapeutic community’, an experiment in inmate-led treatment in which other inmates in the program indoctrinate you in various confounding ways: knowledge checks at random moments, in-your-face accusations of ‘indolence’, forced personal disclosures in front of your group, holding you ‘accountable’ for various infractions of silly little rules (although to call them ‘silly’ or ‘little’ is an infraction in themselves). Not to mention ‘pullup’ mea culpas admitting to these various sins at a podium in front of the community. And 24/7 bombardment with very little alone or free time away from your group.But of all those initial annoyances, I think it was the dancing that really pushed me over the edge, having to get up in front of 150 inmates and dance away to Tommy TuTone’s 867-5309. I didn’t come to prison to dance in front of a bunch of guys. It all seemed a little too cult-like to me. Or like a never-ending fraternity rush (without the alcohol or girls, of course). What does this have to do with treatment, I wondered?
And while I kept telling myself I was willing to walk over hot coals for that year off, in reality I backed off, trying to do the minimum, avoid disclosures of embarrassing personal details, and focus on my own prison things: blogging, playing guitar, reading. Needless to say, my reticence was noticed and in the end I was sent to the hole (for blogging) and recycled from my group for writing too messily in my journal, adding 3 months to my program.
I did finally get with the program and even come to appreciate it. Not everything was for me but much of what I learned and experienced was useful to my recovery and general approach to life. I use some of the tools to this day and consider some of my fellow RDAP participants to be among the best human beings I have ever known.
But as I went on in RDAP, I noticed that it wasn’t just me but white collars offenders in general that struggled the most in the program. You’d think the year would be enough of a motivation to toe the line. But in my time in the program, more doctors, lawyers, businessmen and the like – educated types, in other words – either dropped out or were recycled for poor performance than drug dealers.
There were various reasons for this – we each have our own struggles, after all – but common ones include a reticence to open up in front of inmates out of fear or a belief that a drug dealer will not be able to relate to what led a white collar inmate to commit a crime, a feeling of otherness, a disdain for some of the simpler-minded methods, and a perception among many that they did not belong there, which leads to an unwillingness to participate (in dancing or disclosure, for example). And yes, other inmates do at times single out white collars for harsher treatment – there are some resentment issues to be mindful of.
Should you be considering RDAP and decide to retain us, we will take you step-by-step through all the common pitfalls faced by white collars prisoners in RDAP. Getting into the program and qualifying for the year off is the first big step, and we know how to do everything possible to get you in.
But staying in once you’re there is also key. Don’t laugh, but it’s not as easy as it seems. I experienced that for myself and watched many other ‘white collars’ fall along the way. Preparing the strategies in advance that will help you succeed in RDAP and get that year off will go a long way to ensuring success. Having been there, I know. And, through my own hard won experience, I can show you.
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