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Program to help those get a new start on life after drug and alcohol problems

In 1986, Garcia left behind a job as a fifth-grade teacher and came to South Shore hoping to make enough money to buy a car then drive it back home to Mexico.

Since then Garcia, who asked to go by only his middle name, has been living at South Lake Tahoe working in restaurants as a dishwasher and a bus boy, partly because it took him a long time to learn to speak English.

Today, the 37-year-old is in El Dorado County Jail because he was caught drunken in public twice. He hopes to make a new start for himself and family when he is released from jail in January – the H.E.A.R.T.S. program just may help him do it.



The drug and alcohol educational program in the county jail is called H.E.A.R.T.S. and stands for Health, Education, Addiction Recovery Through Self-responsibility. It has been in place for 14 months and more than 100 inmates have graduated.

“They’ve given me a lot of ideas,” said Garcia, who has so far attended 12 of the program’s required 24 classes. “My mind is changing, so are my thoughts and feelings. I want to live life a different way, maybe go to college and study.”



A counselor from Sierra Recovery Center teaches two classes every Wednesday and Friday in the jail’s law library. The counselor, who asked to remain anonymous, has been a recovering alcohol and drug addict for more than five years now.

“It’s really easy to relate to somebody when you’ve been there,” she said. “I love to give back what was given to me and it’s rewarding when somebody finally gets it. The light goes on and they understand it. And I love to teach.”

But even after a light goes on, which doesn’t happen for all her students, it is essential that inmates seek treatment after they’re released from jail.

“If they don’t get out and go into self-recovery they’ll go back to their old ways,” said Inmate Services Officer Melissa Meekma, who coordinates the program. “They have to accept responsibility for what they’ve done.”

Some inmates are not ready to be serious about treatment even though they’ve made it through a two-month waiting list to get into the program. They apply for H.E.A.R.T.S. just because it enables them to get out of their “pod,” a group of cells, for a couple hours. Inmates also know that successfully completing the program may persuade a judge to reduce their jail sentence.

“I’ve been in other prevention classes before but stuff in here I’ve never heard of before,” said Marc Bugge, 44. “I think I’ve got a better chance now than ever before. At first I was doing it more or less to get out of the pod, but since I’ve been taking this class, (the drug counselor) showed me and made me aware that life can go on without getting high.”

Staying sober for the rest of one’s life was the topic of Wednesday’s class.

“What is a relapse?,” the counselor asked her class. Inmates answered: “Going back to your old behavior … using alcohol or narcotics to coat the problem.”

Then she asked, “What comes up in everyday life (that can lead to a relapse)?” One inmate answered: “Life.”


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