'Drug Recovery Pods' help Manatee County offenders battle addiction

PALMETTO, Fla. -- The road to addiction has many lanes. For John Shorman, it started with painkillers after a car accident.

"When you really, really try to stop, you can't. You don't know how," says Shorman about his struggles with addiction. "There's no knowledge, there's no nothing. You're just stuck on the street, and go back to what you know."

His sixth arrest landed him in the Manatee County Jail, where after 30 years of addiction, he feels he's finally fighting back.

"I'm not scared no more," says Shorman. "I'm not going to be an addict all my life, that was the old person. I'm a new person now. This program let me know that there are people that care for me."

Shorman is one of 50 men and women chosen for the jail's new "Drug Recovery Pods."

For up to three months, they attend recovery meetings twice a day and take advantage of multiple life-skills classes.

"They have parenting skills, life skills, employability skills training, full church services," says Lt. Yvonne Ingersoll, the program coordinator. "You name it, they get it, and it's 100 percent participation."

It's volunteer-only, and inmates must admit to having a problem.

"You can't commit a person to sobriety, it has to come from within," says Ingersoll, who's brother battled addiction through his life.

Michelle Widner started the program on its first day, January 15.

"It's like killing to birds with one stone; I've got my rehab, and getting my criminal charges dealt with," says Widner.

Widner is serving an 11-month sentence for heroin distribution that ends in September. She says the most effective tool to her recovery has been compassion.

"The volunteers, they don't treat us any different. They don't label us by what we've done, or where we're at. We're human here," says Widner.

"We have to be forgiving and non-judgmental in order for them to feel better about themselves and their outlook," adds Ingersoll.

So far, 130 people have completed the program, which runs on nearly 140 volunteers from the Suncoast community.