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CBH program guides participants back to society

The Center for Behavioral Health’s Re-Entry program is designed to help prepare incarcerated Tribal members to rejoin society. The program recently had its first graduate: Matthew Otero of Immokalee.

Trust plays a big part of the program. Otero said at first he hesitated about participating until he met CBH counselor Marilyn Osorio.

“Now she is in my heart,” Otero said. “Every time I get angry, instead of blowing up I see her in my head. Whenever I have a problem or a question, I take it to her. She’s been a big help. Now I can look in the mirror and tell myself I love me.”

The 24-month program is designed as a tool to assist Tribal members to get back into their community.

While still in prison, they receive a letter from CBH outlining the list of programs offered.

If they are interested in participating, Bernard Colman, CBH aftercare and prevention administrator, contacts the prison classification officer to develop a plan after release.

Colman explains the program to the inmate and then reaches out to Seminole Police Department Sergeant Daniel Harris, who visits the prison.

The process for Otero began when Harris, who is SPD’s chaplain, visited him at the Colombia Correctional Institution near Lake City.

“It was a big step that I was able to open up and ask for help,” Otero said. “It lightened up my load; I don’t have to carry it on my shoulders anymore.”

Center for Behavorial Health’s Re-Entry program graduate Matthew Otero, center, with CBH’s Bernard Colman and Marilyn Osorio.Courtesy photo Center for Behavorial Health’s Re-Entry program graduate Matthew Otero, center, with CBH’s Bernard Colman and Marilyn Osorio. (Courtesy photo)

Many ex-prisoners will still be on probation and need a permanent address after they are released. CBH helps them navigate their way.

“Our goal is to assist them with getting treatment,” Colman said. “They can go to any CBH office on any reservation.”

Once the individual is released, CBH will conduct an assessment to determine needs and develop a plan of treatment, which could include psychological services, outpatient therapy, participation in 12-step programs and more. Otero, who was released in July 2018, wanted to participate.

“The program helped me out when I needed it, said Otero, who was in the program for about 19 months. “Since I graduated from the Re-Entry program, I have my control back, manage my own money and am fixing up my house. I feel good about that. It’s not like the past; I trust more now. People have to start trusting the mental health program because it really works. This time I wanted it, I needed it and I got the help.”

Otero is looking forward to marrying his longtime girlfriend and he has a plan that includes making sure his nine grandchildren are financially secure.

“I’m trying to do everything right with my money instead of giving it to drug dealers,” he said. “I’m not going backward, not anymore.”

His advice for others in a similar situation is simple.

“The program works if you want it to work, but you have to trust it,” Otero said. “It’s hard, but I did it.”


My re-entry experience

By: Matthew Otero
CBH Re-Entry program graduate

When I left Hamilton Correctional Institute during the last 18 months of my prison sentence I was put on a bus with other inmates and was told we were going to Columbia Correctional.

We heard from other inmates how violent this prison was. I admit I was scared but knew there was nothing I could do until I got there. We were told we were chosen by Tallahassee to be part of the prison re-entry.

There were 40 of us and only 18 made it in the program. Though we had our own re-entry dorms at Columbia I never felt safe; it was like I was always walking on rice paper all the time.

I am proud to say I did graduate from the prison re-entry program because I did everything that was expected of me to get out of prison and go home.

I was there for 18 months. When I reached the last six months of my sentence, I thought I’m going to need help when I get out.

I remember working with the Center for Behavioral Health before and didn’t have trust in the program because I felt there was no confidentiality, which led to me losing trust.

I started trying to get a hold of people. This meant me having to use illegal phones at the prison. One day Sergeant Daniel Harris of the Seminole Police Department visited me and I told him I needed help. Sgt. Harris agreed to talk to someone about helping me.

I then received a letter from the CBH regarding their re-entry program. I spoke to the classification officer at jail asked for his help completing my letter of response to CBH.

The day came when I got out of prison and though it was rough the first few days I returned to the reservation. I met my counselor Marilyn Osorio.

I didn’t trust her at first but that changed when I worked with her and she helped me. I regained control of my life and have more understanding of things I didn’t really understand before.

With the help of Marilyn and others, I have trust in this program now. As time went on, I did not hear my information being shared in the community, which allowed me to continue building trust in the program.

Other staff members, Christine and Tammi, have helped me when Marilyn was not available.

I know if I have problems today I need to go to these people for help. Back then, I used to think I knew everything. Now, when I need help I know who to go to.

I also know what to do when I have bad thoughts; CBH has helped me put good words in my head and heart.

I may still run into little problems, but now I know how to handle things. I no longer blow up but work toward handling the situation with the skills taught to me.

When I look in the mirror and see Matthew now, I am happy to see him and tell him I love him. Though I was not like this in the past, I know I had to go through some things to be where I am today.

This program does help, but you have to want the help and not do it for court or others.

This also means not to look at doing a 30-day program and everything will be ok when you get out. I have been in eight programs during my life.

This time it was different and I knew I really, really needed help. I had to trust them and they did help me.

Marilyn is a special lady; she is in my heart. I also still listen to Ann from John’s Place and remember what she taught me. I still hear their voices helping me through problems I face.

Every time I tell my story I get emotional. I keep talking and telling my story, as I know all this is coming from my heart. When I let out my feelings it feels good vs. holding it in. I also want to help my people.

The day came when I was told I was graduating from the Tribe’s Re-Entry program. I was happy with this accomplishment but also got scared feeling I was being dumped.

But CBH told me they would still be here to help and support me as I needed them. I do not want to step back like I did in the past; I know I still need them today.

If you need behavioral health, please trust these people as your secrets are safe. I am doing better these days.

I’m fixing my home, spending my money wiser and helping my family and my grandkids. My heart feels good about that. I never used my heart in the past, but I am now.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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