Associated Press, January 13, 1998;
Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor, Monday, January 12, 1998
"LIVE FREE OR DIE!" -- New Hampshire State Motto
Prisoner wants non-religious
alternative to AA
Refusal to participate keeps him locked up
by Carrie Sturrock
Bill Yates says he has quit his addiction for good and doesn't need anyone telling him to turn his will over to God.
So he won't participate in any Alcoholics Anonymous-based treatment programs at the New Hampshire State Prison, although that's the only type offered. His refusal has prevented him from getting his sentence reduced, and he now fears it will prevent him from getting out on time.
"Alcoholics Anonymous is religious, and the prison cannot hold anybody back from freedom because they failed to attend an unequivocally religious process," he said.
Yates wants the prison to add a program called Rational Recovery to its list of acceptable drug and alcohol treatment programs. Rational Recovery never mentions God and, unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, doesn't view addiction recovery as a life-long process. You just simply quit, as Yates says he did.
"The worst way to quit something you love is to do it one day at a time," said Lois Trimpey, who co-founded Rational Recovery with her husband Jack. "You have to take the high dive and get it over with."
The prison doesn't buy it. It's not about to allow inmates, 85 percent of whom have a substance abuse problem, to consider that treatment. And anyway, the prison considers Alcoholics Anonymous spiritual, not religious.
"The people who created Rational Recovery, as far as I can see, have problems with God," said Steve Kenney, director of substance abuse services for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. "They can't separate out God from spirituality. They don't like the idea of being powerless. If you're an alcoholic, the fact remains, you are powerless."
In the late 1980s, when the Department of Corrections began developing its intensive, 11-month treatment program known as Summit House, it reviewed techniques used around the country and found that the 12-step program in Alcoholics Anonymous worked the best, Kenney said.
Those steps include participants' acknowledging the following:
"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
"We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
"We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."
One of the benefits of the Alcoholics Anonymous platform, Kenney said, is that it has many support groups outside the prison for inmates to join and continue the process of recovery.
"In the criminal justice system, we need something where people can be tracked,'' Kenney said. "The problem with Rational Recovery is the individual could opt out and say "Okay, I'm well now."
Courts around the country, however, have ruled the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is religious. In June of 1996, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the New York Department of Corrections substance abuse program was unconstitutional because, "after a fair reading of the doctrinal literature of Alcoholics Anonymous (the 12-step program was found to be) unequivocally religious."
"It isn't my intention to badmouth AA as much as it is to show there are alternatives to AA," Yates said. "But when you force AA on me without accepting any alternatives ... to recovery, that's what's wrong."
The prison has urged Yates, who suffered from a heroin addiction, to go through the Summit House program, which the prison describes as voluntary. In refusing Yate's application to get a sentence reduction, Warden Michael Cunningham wrote, "Since his confinement, he has not participated in any meaningful programming. Based on this, I believe a sentence modification should not be granted until he has completed the Summit House program."
Yates fears he will hear the same thing in October when the parole board considers releasing him after he finishes his minimum sentence.
There are currently 31 inmates who have served their minimum prison sentence but aren't being released because they haven't completed any drug treatment programs. No inmates has said he or she objected for religious reasons.
Yates, 38, had grappled with a drug problem for years. He entered Seaborne Hospital in Dover in 1985 where he went through a 12-step based program. He stayed clean for 60 days following his release. He used drugs and then got clean again but after his infant son died in 1987, he turned again to drugs.
It wasn't that he was powerless to stop his addiction, but he chose not to, he says.
"Using heroin was not fully attributable to my son's death," he said. "I made a choice to use heroin."
He first heard about Rational Recovery in prison four years ago from his mother who had attended Alcoholics Anonymous for 10 years before recovering through the Trimpeys' program. The techniques worked for him as well.
His recovery, he says, is legitimate: Drugs are prevalent behind bars and he's resisted them using Rational Recovery.
Yates didn't have to go to a support group and admit he had a disease. He just stopped.
"If you want to quit smoking, do you want to hang out with other smokers?," Lois Trimpey said. "You're not going to say you're a recovering smoker and gratuitously hug people you don't care for."
Rational Recovery is based on a technique known as Addictive Voice Recognition Technique. The Trimpeys, who live in Lotus California and appeared on the Maury Povich Show in 1996, tell addicts that people effectively have two brains. The primitive one -- the midbrain -- generates survival appetites for food and water and in some people, substances like alcohol and cocaine. The other brain, or cerebral cortex, enables people to think and solve problems.
"In Rational Recovery, we use the neocortex, our human brains, our selves, to override the appetite for alcohol and other drugs," the couple writes in its literature. "This may be done without recovery groups, moral, spiritual, or psychological improvements, higher powers or labeling yourself an alcoholic.'"
The Trimpeys advise people to consider the primitive brain as "it," the beast. So it's "it" wants a drink or drugs, not "I" want a drink.
"Instead of struggling one-day-at-a-time, you make a Big Plan to quit for good," they write. "A Big Plan has only five words, "I will never drink/use again." ... You may notice strong feelings -- anxiety, sorrow, anger -- when you contemplate your Big Plan. Those feelings are not truly yours, but are the expressions of a fearful Beast. Your old enemy is on the run."
The Trimpeys have four Rational Recovery centers, in Dallas, Chicago, Sacramento and Newport Beach, Calif. They have a toll-free phone number: 1-800-303-CURE. And their book, Rational Recovery: The New Cure, is in its second printing.
To implement the program, the prison simply has to stock the book and acknowledge it's a viable method of quitting addictions. Or it could go further and hire a full-time instructor -- still far cheaper than the Alcoholics Anonymous programs the prison now runs. But no prison in the country has so far done that.
"The reason they don't is because (AA) is a means of controlling them," Lois Trimpey said. "You can never quit AA because you'll have a relapse. People are expected to go for life."
Kenney says he would offer inmates alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous if they objected for religious reasons, just not Rational Recovery.
Inmates who have stopped feeding their addiction are in remission, he said, not recovered. Sure there are some drugs and alcohol in prison, but not using them doesn't mean you're totally recovered, Kenney said. There are difficult struggles outside prison and it's those struggles that fuel addiction.
"I think (Yates) is latching on to Rational Recovery because it's the easy way out," he said. "They have to do very little."
(Carrie Sturrock can be reached at 603-224-5301, ext. 309, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Rational Recovery can be reached at 916-621-2667 or email@example.com)
Rational Recovery Systems, Inc. Box 800, Lotus CA 95651
National office -- 916-621-2667
Look into the newsgroup: alt.recovery.from-12-steps
January 15, 1998
Dear Ms. Sturrock,
Your Monitor article of January 13 was just sent to me by a correspondent of mine. It was, in my opinion a well presented and unbiased news item . The sorry truth about religious intolerance always comes as a surprise to me because I prefer to think that government employees are really trying to do the right thing. In this case, I read your story to illustrate how the state prison system is trying to force Mr. Yates into a clearly religious program. Just look, for example, at the "Serenity Prayer" that closes every meeting.
I am a retired Oregon lawyer. One of my professional disappointments was that I never had a case where I could represent a non-religious inmate who was being forced into AA. I have done considerable research on the question of a state's power to require an inmate (or a even a drunk driving defendant) to enter the very religious Alcoholics Anonymous program where six of the twelve steps are religious in nature. The question of, "Does a state improperly endorse religion if it requires non voluntary participation in AA," has been answered with a resounding, "Yes," in many jurisdictions.
I well understand that a imprisoned felon has surrendered many of his rights but he has not lost his constitutional right of religious freedom. I strongly suspect that the attempt to force Mr. Yates into this program is simply a test of wills. The system is not willing to give an inch -- even when it is clearly wrong.
I am confident that there are lawyers in the great state of New Hampshire who would love to sink their teeth into this case.
415 SW 13th Avenue
Portland OR 97204
P.S. Is my memory right and isn't the official state motto of New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die"?
January 15, 1998
As a practicing attorney I was intrigued by numerous quotes of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections officials regarding the case of Bill Yates.
1. "The people who created Rational Recovery, as far as I can see, have problems with God." Setting aside any argument that the First Amendment specifically allows each citizen the absolute right to have "problems with God", Mr. Kenney inherently imposes his conception of God. Many religious faiths reject the premise that mankind is powerless over inanimate objects( i.e.- alcohol). This includes various Fundamentalist Christian denominations that view AA as a "counterfeit religion" ( see: Way of Life Fundamental Baptist News Service and PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Martin and Bobgan, September-October, 1997). I am of the opinion that Mr. Yates' challenge under the First Amendment is validated by the government imposing a doctrine that requires a conception of God, and that his complaint is unassailable when, as here, that conception of God mandates a specific system of belief;
2. "the Department of Corrections ... Reviewed techniques used around the country and found that the 12-step program in Alcoholics Anonymous worked the best," Kenney said. Here, Mr. Kenney acknowledges the existence of alternative methodologies even though the State Prison refuses to offer any alternative to the religious doctrines of the 12-step program. Further, a recent Federal Government research study entitled Project MATCH determined that there are few differences in the effectiveness of three treatment approaches (12-step, cognitive-behavioral coping skills therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy), and any differences are not statistically significant.
3. "In the criminal justice system, we need something where people can be tracked," Kenney said. I am unaware of any legal foundation for the proposition that once a person has paid his/her debt to society the government has a continuing right to "Track" that person. Without question the system has a right and an obligation to monitor probationers and parolees. Once a full release from the system is obtained, however, the monitoring rights of the government cease. More insidious, Mr. Kenney acknowledges that the government delegates this alleged right to AA.
4. "Since his confinement, he has not participated in any meaningful programming," Warden Michael Cunningham wrote. Inasmuch as the only available programming is 12-step methodology, it must be assumed that the only meaningful programming requires an adherence to the religious doctrine presented. Once again, Mr. Yates' Constitutional challenge is validated by the statements and acknowledgements of the prison officials.
I urge every reader to carefully consider the significance of government officials using terminology that presupposes the right to "track" and "program" citizens. It may not be simple coincidence that AA approved literature quotes Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) as the man who called Bill Wilson (co-founder of AA) " the greatest social architect of the century."
Russell O. Brabham
Shreveport, La. 71109