Telling it like it is bringing the community together and working for justice. Attorney Travis McConnell talks politics, trending news, and how you can make a difference. You’re listening to, We Trust Travis. Hi everyone. I’m Sarina Fazan, I’m a journalist, host, and producer. Welcome to this episode of We Trust Travis. Travis McConnell is a personal injury attorney with a huge passion for the community. So let’s get started with this show. Hi, Travis. Travis is joining us from Warsaw, Indiana, Travis. Nice to see you.
Nice to see you again today, Sarina
And Travis, just so the folks know out there, you practice law in Indiana, as well as the state of Florida.
Yes, I’m here in Warsaw, Indiana, where I’ve got an office and I’ve also got one in St. Petersburg, Florida.
That’s right. I’m in the studios in St. Petersburg, Florida. And you have a very special guest with you today. Courtney Jenkins. Hi Courtney, can you please introduce you? Can you please introduce you? You’re a local, do you know what we’re talking all over each other because we are so excited about the show because Courtney has such a huge passion to help people. So I’m not gonna let, I’m not gonna interrupt you any more. Courtney, please share who you are and what you started.
So my name is Courtney Jenkins and I work for the Kosciusko county Sheriff’s office and I coordinate our jail chemical addiction program. We commonly call it J cap and it is a four month treatment program that is housed within the county jail. And they do recovery classes as well as life skills classes. So that’s what I do.
So let us ask you why is this program so personal to you if you could share the personal journey?
Yeah, so my son is 24 and his high school years were pretty rough. And then after he graduated from high school in 2015, he became addicted to heroin and meth. And so just trying to wrap our heads around where, where he was and where we were and, and all of the struggles that that come with watching your son slowly kill himself. It was heartbreaking and overwhelming, and we didn’t know how to handle it, and we didn’t know where to go to for help. And so honestly the first couple of years I kind of just spent them in bed. I was really depressed. I have three younger daughters who definitely suffered because of the stress that it was putting on our family and on me and my husband. And it just was really difficult. And so after I think it was about two years I decided that something had to change and my son had been in and out of jail a couple of times.
And I just had this really strong opinion that each time he came out, things were worse. He knew different people. He had a stronger criminal thinking mentality that was super unhealthy and was causing him to get any even more trouble. And so it just, I just felt like we, we have to change something. So I started looking, I mean, and also at the same time, I guess we sent our son to rehab in Florida and when he came back, he made fun of the recovery program that he had been part of their specifically the AA portion of it. And that frustrated me because he grew up going to church. He grew up knowing what I thought, you know, was who he was and where he came from and why he was here. And he didn’t at least not at that time.
And so it, it hurt me to hear him kind of make fun of his higher power and that aspect of the AA program. But it also made me think, okay, if, if he isn’t going to follow that program and if that program isn’t going to help him, what will, what, what else is there? And so I started researching a friend told me about the smart recovery program and I took an online course. It was a 40 hour simple little course to become a facilitator. And I started going into the jail in 2017 and doing smart recovery classes with the female population. And I did that a couple of times a week for about a year and a half. And during that time, our county received a grant from the state attorney General’s office to start a J cap program.
The program was originally started in Dearborn county, Indiana. And so the, the office of the attorney general offered specific grant money to any county who was willing to start the program. So our county accepted that offer and they kind of slowly began to put things in place, but I have been a stay at home mom at that time for 22 years, I think. And it wasn’t moving fast enough for me. And I just kept hounding them. Like what, what can I do to help? Where are we at with this? I can, I can make calls. I can, like, I just was this little like annoying. And I know I was super annoying. Sometimes you just have to, and eventually they gave the stack of Dearborn county paperwork and they said here just convert it to Kosciusko county. So in doing that, I really learned the ins and outs of the program.
I put together an outline of what I felt like they needed to be doing right away. They needed to get together a committee. They needed to have an application process. You know, there was just a lot of different moving parts. At the same time that that was happening, our county was going through an election year and the, the city and sheriff had not won the primary. And so we knew we were going to have a new sheriff and we knew it was going to be because he was running at that point in post. And so I saw him at a community meeting that I had helped to organize. And I went up to pile Dukes and I introduced myself and I said, we have an opportunity to really run this great program. And I, I needed to talk to you about it because you need to do this. And so at the same time, the, the administration and the jail commander at the time they were putting the program together and they started six girls in the program in October of 2018. And then sheriff Dukes came into office in January of 2019. He called me into his office on January 3rd and asked me to run the program. And so I explained to him and the jail commander, exactly what I thought this program could be. And I had pretty high hopes at that point. Our son had been in,
So Courtney, before you go any further, cause I have so many questions for you before you go any further, your story is amazing. And I would say that you’re not annoying at all. It’s thank goodness. There are mothers and people like you in this world. So we make so many changes, but before you go more into the program, I just want to interrupt for one second, because I wanted to ask about Travis hearing Courtney and explain how this whole program started. Is this why it was so important for you to have her on your show? And how did the two of you meet
When we were talking, like planning for the show is we talked about potentially talking about the opioid epidemic and things that are going on because it’s been a big issue. I just immediately thought of Courtney. As soon as you say opioid, I’m like, we need to talk to coordinate because she’s actively working and doing a great job at making a difference here in our community. Like the J Cap program has been amazing and what it’s done to change things here in our county. It’s one of those things that I feel like it should be expanded, you know, it should be everywhere. It’s really done a great job to go from point a, kind of talked about how you become criminalized going into the system. And this takes that and breaks it and gets you hooked up. And she, she works with community partners that come in and meet people and do job interviews and trainings and all those sorts of things, as well as mentorship to really help people come out and have the skills that they need to succeed as opposed to skills that they learned from their roommates or cellmates.
And I think going back to also Courtney, with what you said when you met with the sheriff who was, you know, clearly unopposed and instead of letting someone else run the program. So to go back with, to what you were sharing, you decided to be proactive and step in yourself. So if you could continue with your story.
Yeah. So I, I, at that point I had been a stay at home mom for all of our married life. And so counting government is weird in that their budgets were already done. And so I just volunteered for the first year and our goal that first year was to build the program into exactly what we wanted it to be as quickly as we could, but doing everything in exactly the right way. We, we didn’t want to make little mistakes that were going to cause us to have to backtrack or cause somebody more heartache in their recovery journey. And so we, even though we kind of walked lately, we are very, very blessed in our community to have amazing support from so, so many organizations. And so actually one of the best things that we did that first month in January, we invited every community organization that would even remotely touch someone who had struggled with substance abuse disorder. And we invited them all to the Sheriff’s office. We sat down in the multi-purpose room around a big table and we just one, we ask every organization to explain what they did and how they could help J Cap as well as help other organizations that were around the table that proved over and over again, to be the most essential part to our beginnings.
Well, that’s wonderful. And when you talked about the beginning, you said you initially went into the female population, were you limited to only going into the female population?
So I, I kind of was because my son at the time was in general population and it, I wasn’t super welcomed necessarily when I first started going in. It was just a really different thing for the jail staff and the administration to have someone going in and trying to teach a class. And so I started small, I just started with the females. I actually started with one day a week and after just a couple of months, I said, Hey, would you mind if I came in on Thursdays too? And they were like, oh, we don’t care. And so it worked out, I mean, was, it was literally like, that was my answer and then just keep going. Exactly. Yeah. And that’s, that’s kinda what I did. And they were, they were gracious after a little while and they welcomed me.
And so I did just specifically meet with the females initially. Well, good for you though. Yeah, yeah, no good for you even while it does. It does the culture in our jail has shifted drastically. Do you care if I share a little story about just the culture shift and the jail? So last year in the spring I had two gentlemen who applied to the J Cap program and they both wrote me very, very nice letters that kind of caught me off guard because I do get a lot of letters for people requesting that they be admitted into the program. And but these two really caught my attention. And so I looked up the two gentlemen to see what their situation was, if they would even be a candidate for the program. And as I looked at them, I noticed that they were in our segregation block meaning they had been in trouble.
And so then I started looking, I went to look at their incident reports and the one gentleman had had like 27 incidents in a six month period. And the other one wasn’t very far behind. And so it was like, you gotta be kidding, nice water, and yet you can’t behave. And so I went to talk to them because my opinion has always been, I haven’t been able to help my son. He’s still an active addiction. But maybe I can help somebody else’s. And maybe I, I pray for the person who is able to connect with my son in a way and say, just that right thing that he needs to hear so that he knows his worth. And he knows that he can do this. So I went into F block. They happened to be in the same cell together and I woke them up and I just started asking them questions. And I was like, look, you wrote these nice letters, but here you are. And you got all these incident reports and how old are you guys? Why are you behaving like this? And they were both in their early thirties. And I was shocked because I was like I said, it’s for you to grow up. I said, you guys are kind of part of the cool kids club here in the jail. And you’re setting a horrible example for these young kids.
Okay. I that gave me goosebumps though. What you said when you said that, because I was of course, going to circle back to your son and ask how your son was doing. And when you said that your son is still struggling with addiction and you hope and pray that someone will enter his life, right. And give him those words that he needs or the support that he needs, which of course you’re constantly trying to do. But that, I mean, that says a lot about you, Courtney, that that’s the effect that you hope to have on someone like these two gentlemen that you’re sharing the story about. Wow.
Well, and it’s easy to see when you work in the jail, the inmates there, they are really good people and they are, they’re desperate for somebody to tell them that they have worth. And so when these two gentlemen told me that both of them had just had babies born and I asked them about their fathers which were really sad stories. And neither one of them had had a father in their life. And I said, so is this what you want for your children? Because I hear that story over and over again in the jail. And I just told, I said, it’s time for you guys to grow up. And if you can make it for the next four months, which is how long the J Cap program lasts, if you can make it through the next four months without any incidents, I will consider you for the program.
And I can’t make any promises because we do have a whole committee that decides those things. But the one gentleman made it five months and the other one is still absolutely no incidents in the jail. Wow. The gentlemen that made it five months was released a few months ago and he actually called me this weekend and he said, I just want you to know that I have been out for two months. I’ve been working two jobs since the day I got out. I’ve had two jobs and I see my daughter almost every single day. And I just was able to buy her a crib and diapers. And I did it because you told me that I needed to. And because you told me I could and just, I think it shows how desperate they are to change their lives. They really want something different than what they have.
But addiction is a tricky thing. It’s really hard. And it doesn’t just, it doesn’t just go away because you’ve been in jail for six months or a year. There’s so much more involved with recovery and it’s so much more than learning to not use drugs. It’s you have to change every single thing about your life. You have to change your people. You have to change every place you go, the way that you think, the activities that you do, you have to find new hobbies. And for the majority of people who struggle with addiction, they have struggled since their early teens. And so they don’t even have adult hobbies. They don’t know what they like to do. Like I have said to girls before, like before addiction, what did you like to do? Like, what did you do? And the one girl looked at me and she literally said, I don’t know. I played with barbies. Yeah. Isn’t that something?
Yeah. So speaking of Travis, so speaking of that, you have said, because as you and I were talking about, even before the show started, that you feel so passionate as an attorney that this needs to, there needs to be some type of intervention, even prior to them getting into the system. Talk about, I think, I,
I think ideally it would be great to be able to help people before they get into jail. It’s a lot trickier and there’s more moving parts, obviously. If we could be more proactive, there’s the old adage of, you know, a answer, what an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care. Sorry about that. Took me a minute to think of the words. Yeah, I mean, with the program is fantastic. It’s making a huge difference. And there’s so many other stories I’m sure that Courtney could share but if we can help people before they even get into jail, when they first start down that road, if there’s somebody to intervene sooner then that would be ideal. I think, I think there’s a certain component of J cap that makes it unique. And it helps with the success rate, which I’m sure to Courtney can talk about.
We’ve talked about before, as far as the fact that you are in jail and that adds a different dynamic and there’s a certain aspect is the old adage. You know, you’re not ready to get better until you hit rock bottom. And being in jail definitely feels like a bottom sometimes for a lot of people. But I think there is a way that we can look at helping people sooner. We need to make sure and not waste resources if things aren’t working, but I don’t think that means that we give up on people either that we need to try and find that solution before they’ve already been partially criminalized. Like Courtney was talking about where they’ve gone through the system they’ve gone through, like, I think as an attorney of like programs for misdemeanor offenses, for marijuana and small things like that, where people go through and for most people, those programs are pretty meaningless.
There’s some courts that have even stopped sending people because they realize they don’t make a difference. So if we could somehow replace those with something else, as opposed to just give up and not require anything I think that would be something that would really help to focus on rehabilitation for people and giving people back as productive members of society. I mean, not only is it, it’s, it’s the right thing to do in my opinion, just, you know, helping people. But it also, if you want to look at it from an economic point of view, because that’s what some people like to speak, that language, every person that we help them becomes a productive member of society. And not only are we not, they’re not costing us money in the criminal justice system, which the cost is going up up, up year after year. But now they’re a productive member of society. Who’s generating economic output and a country. Who’s got a huge employment issue right now. We can use every employee that we have available through us.
No, absolutely. So Travis, how, how can we start to make that happen? I know it’s a lot easier said than done. I mean, Courtney is proof of taking action and making a difference, but how can we make what you’re talking about happen?
I think if we could take something like J Cap and do it where you don’t have to be in jail, but potentially work release or home detention and have a center where people go in for their classes on that basis that you have all the same program, but you’re not in the jail. It’s going to be harder for people because there’s going to be that chance to slip up at home. They’re going to be at home. They’re not going to be having that supervision at all the time. It could be drug screens, things like that, and real strict oversight. But I think that’s something where you could do on offense, because one of the good and bad things about J cap is you have to be in jail for four months to qualify because it’s a four month long program. Most people for their first offense, aren’t going to be sitting in jail for four months. So if we can help people earlier with some sort of Jacob program while you’re on probation or community corrections or something like that, I think that’s what the key would be. And figuring out the differences in the issues would be oversight and people being at home and less supervision will be tricky, but it’s something that ethically we need to work to make happen.
So Courtney is you hear Travis talk about this. Do you see that in the future of J Cap, some adjustments? No,
I wish. And I think our county is, is on the right track. In January we got a new director out at our work release center and she is, she was part of our J Cap program kind of from the beginning that she was an HR director and she helped with our job readiness classes. And she just became very invested in the program. She hired several of our graduates, many of our graduates actually. And, and she helped to kind of mentor them as they worked for her as well. So stepping into her role as the work-release director, Heather has done an outstanding job of one looking at individuals on a case by case basis and saying, okay, what do you need for your success? Do we need to get you into classes and counseling services? Do you need to go to church every Sunday?
Do you need to attend recovery meetings? Do you need to, like, she’s really working to make it more of an opportunity for them to practice living instead of just going to work and then back to the work release center and after they’re done they are responsible to get a bank account. They are responsible to get all of their fines and fees paid before they leave the work-release center. So they’re set up on a budget and they, they contribute to the decisions that are being made in that budget, but there’s somebody there to help guide them and kind of walk them through that. They, they see their kids regularly now, which is not something that happened at our work release center before. And we have a counselor that’s out there one day a week and they can sign up to see him. If they’ve got struggles, if they’re dealing with issues with their families, it is a such a taxing situation to, to be in jail or to be in work release and leave your family behind. You know, moms are trying to raise the kids and hopefully support them. And so Heather just really recognizes that they need help and they need, there needs to be some concessions made so that they can meet their family obligations as well. And, and try to rebuild those relationships while they’re meeting the obligations, because there’s a lot of anger from kids or from, or from moms and dads are sisters and brothers who have had to deal with the fallout of, of their choices. Absolutely
Because it just not, it does not just affect one person. It affects everybody. It affects the entire unit surrounding that person, family, friends. It does, it affects everybody. So what would, what would your it’s, what you’ve done there is amazing. What would your message be to other people as they watch this show throughout the country to help out their community?
I would say, get involved and find out where you fit because there are so many needs. I have people call me weekly. I’m just saying, I just, I just heard about the program. My niece has struggled. How can I help? Can I teach a class? And I said, well, you could tell me, tell me what your skills are. Tell me what kind of class you would be interested in teaching. But we have mentor opportunities. So we have a mentor program and we bring them in, they get to meet our participants and then they follow them as they transition back to the community and they become a friend for them. There’s somebody that they can call when they’re struggling, when they’re having a bad day, when they’re having a good day. And they’ve got all this success that they want to share with someone, but their maybe family system or their old friends are not the people that they can reach out to anymore, or maybe they just don’t feel like would care.
And so we, we really worked to do that. So we’ve got mentor opportunities. We have obviously donations are a huge part of our program. We are grant and donation funded and the donations pick up the majority of our costs. And so that’s always a huge help. But we have people from the community, not just organizations that come in and teach classes. I have a lady right now, who’s teaching a goal setting class and she retired and she called me and she said, I have this idea. And it was just a fantastic idea and the girls are loving the class. And so find, find an organization that interests you learn about what they do, and then find exactly where you can help. Don’t leave it up to somebody to say, okay, we need you here because it might not be a good fit for you.
And then if it’s a bad experience or not a great experience, you’re not going to do it. And so find, find what works. I really believe that. And I think also when you, when you really search out those opportunities and you do it with the intentions of, of serving your community or serving others, I think doors are opened and, and a path has made clear. I mean, that’s how it was for me. I had never, I mean, up until January 3rd, when I walked into sheriff Duke’s office, I didn’t, I did not ever see myself doing this. It was not something my husband and I had discussed. I came home from the meeting and my husband was like, okay, well, what was that about? And I was like, well, I think I work now. I literally was like, I don’t know. I, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Well, you know, an absolutely when you’re talking about finding, you know, something that you’re passionate about and passionate about, it appears that J cap does have a great system in place. So for people to just learn more about J cap, where, where would you suggest they go to Facebook, to your website? Where’s the best place.
Yeah. So if they go to the Kosciusko county, Sheriff’s office, Facebook page we have pinned to their to the top of their page as series of videos about the program. And it really showcases what the program is about the family feel that we have with not just our participants, but with our instructors as well. We, we are a close group and it’s it is just a very unique experience to get, to walk into kind of our little world in the jail. And so I would, I would really recommend that people watch those videos.
Okay. Absolutely. And Travis, what would your final message be?
I mean, kind of the echo coordinate, like get involved, get involved in your community, whether it’s this or something else. I think that’s the big thing is there’s so much work to be done. And I think a lot of us tend to want to just keep to ourselves, keep our bubbles and realize there’s such a big push for individual Liberty, individual rights and more and more about individuals that are taking care of ourselves and our families. But like we’re all in this together as a saying, this happened because of the pandemic. Right. but I mean, it’s been true even before, like this is a community and it’s only going to be as good as we make it. And that takes all of us working together. So get involved in your community, find the thing that you enjoy and try and get plugged in. And if you hit a little bit of a wall be persistent, like don’t, don’t, don’t be afraid to go ask, but don’t be afraid to ask again and again yeah. Thank
You so much, Courtney, for sharing your journey, your passion again we need more people like you in this community. We of course wish the very, very best for your son and we’re all pulling for him. We appreciate it.
Absolutely. We so appreciate it. Of course, Travis, thank you. And thank you everyone so much for joining us for this episode of We Trust Travis, please share, and like this video and share it so we can continue this message of helping the community. Thanks so much for joining us to learn more about Travis McConnell, head to TravisMCLaw.com. Thank you for listening to We Trust Travis.