When prison is a safe place: Batavia mom worried about addict son after release

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Aurora Beacon News on 8/27/2017 by Denise Crosby

Pat Hummel has serious qualms about the day her son Tyler is released from prison. Understandable when you hear the reason why.

He’s a drug addict. Has been since he was in junior high. And despite her and husband Dave’s best efforts — including tough love and tens of thousands of dollars spent on counseling, lawyers and medical help — their son has not been able to break free from the demon that snared him even before his birth.

Tyler Hummel came in to this world 24 years ago suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome and crack in his system, according to family members. The Batavia couple began fostering him the day he left the hospital and adopted him soon after, well aware even back then of how a tiny brain can be permanently altered by a mother’s substance abuse.

Hummel, a nurse practitioner in neonatal care, says she and Dave, a former Chrysler engineer who recently retired as a teacher at Will County Technical High School, went into this with their eyes wide open. Despite their son’s drug history that they knew made him susceptible to addiction, they hoped by providing the child with a stable loving home they could beat back the demon.

Unfortunately, children born addicted often suffer brain damage and cognitive impairments which, among other things, leave them vulnerable to the suggestions of others with an inability to distinguish right from wrong or understand consequences.

By age 13 Tyler was already abusing marijuana and alcohol, Hummel says. By age 18, diagnosed with ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder, he was into cocaine and heroin. In and out of trouble with the law, he ended up attending a couple of alternative schools, which Hummel said, despite his above average IQ, did little to give him a proper education.

“We were disappointed but not shocked,” she said of their struggles with their son.

Incarcerated repeatedly, in Kane County and with the Illinois Department of Corrections, for drug possession or stealing, Tyler is now serving his third prison stint. The problem is, his mother said, because he’s not eligible for any drug treatment program she’s afraid Tyler will begin using again upon his release.

After being incarcerated first at Shawnee Correctional Center, then at Moline, last summer he went back into prison — this time at Lawrence Correctional Center — after walking out of a department store with a bunch of random items, including sewing supplies.

“It’s like he wanted to get caught,” his mother said, relieved that Tyler at least would not be able to do drugs while behind bars.

In a recent phone interview from Lawrence prison, Tyler Hummel described himself as “depressed, suicidal” when he stole yet again.

“I did not care anymore,” he said, adding that he’s been incarcerated so much since age 18 that “I actually thrive on the structure” inside a prison. “And when I don’t have structure, I feel vulnerable.”

Hummel says the family was hoping against hope this last time that he’d be assigned to Sheridan Correctional Center, which is one of only a handful of Illinois prisons that offer addiction help to inmates.

Hummel says she was told her son was on a waiting list. But it’s unlikely he’ll be transferred to a prison with a rehab program as he was also charged in 2015 with having sex in the backseat of a car with a person who Tyler and his family say was his girlfriend and underage at the time. Even though the charges were reduced to aggravated battery in a public place, according to an IDOC spokesperson, those who’ve even been charged with a sex crime are not eligible for drug rehab.

Lea Minalga, founder of Hearts of Hope, a local support group for heroin users, says Tyler is just one victim of a broken system that, until it begins treating addiction like any other disease, will only make this pandemic worse.

We would not put someone with cancer in prison and refuse to treat them, she said.

“We throw these addicts whose brains have been dramatically altered by drugs into a system that is flawed, at best,” she said. “And it is just not working.”

Stacy Munroe, regional vice president of WestCare, which operates the largest drug treatment programs in Illinois for those incarcerated, says the numbers speak for themselves. According to a Sheridan recidivism study done in 2009, inmates released from the prison had a 20 percent lower likelihood of returning when offered drug treatment. And those that completed the aftercare had a 52 percent lower likelihood of returning to prison.

All you have to do is look to Cook County Jail to see how dire the problem is, noted Munroe. Despite overwhelming evidence that drug treatment in prison reduces recidivism and is far more cost effective, budget restraints have forced the number of treatment beds to drop from 618 to 145, with treatment lengths cut from 120 to 90 days.

Other prisons with treatment programs under WestCare include Logan Correctional Center, with 130 beds for women, and another 26 recently picked up for those suffering from addiction and mental illness; Lincoln Correctional Center, with 50 beds; two boot camps – Dixon Springs and Duquoin — with approximately 120 beds currently filled; and another 50 at Cross Roads Adult Transition Center, an adult work release program.

Munroe said heroin and opioids account for 31 percent of misuse by prisoners in WestCare programs, with alcohol coming in second at 27 percent, marijuana at 26 percent and cocaine/crack at 10 percent with other drugs at 6 percent.

“There are so many families affected by it,” she said. “We see it every day.”

WestCare, in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Corrections, is piloting a program at Sheridan where heroin users, before their release, receive a monthly shot of Vivitrol, a non-narcotic drug that dramatically diminishes the cravings for heroin for 30 days. At $1,200 a shot, the cost is astronomical for those who don’t have insurance, but it’s been proven so far “to be a great tool,” noted Munroe. “We’ve had really good outcomes so far.”

Currently there are 1,864 drug treatment beds at Sheridan but the Illinois Department of Corrections is looking for ways to get that number up as the opiate epidemic continues to sweep through our communities.

“I’m afraid if he gets out and begins using again,” said Hummel of her son, “this time he will just kill himself.”

Tyler insists he doesn’t start using again because he wants to but because he becomes bored and lonely.

“You think you can handle it. And you call someone, an old user,” he said.

He now realizes one of the most important things he can do is “get rid of those old phone numbers” and replace them with “people who will support you.”

But that, too, creates a challenge. Tyler says he’s gone to several inmate-run AA meetings but found them frustrating with no counselor to “keep things on track.” He’s been writing letters to those on the outside in AA, hoping to build a support network once he is released.

Tyler admits that because he’s gone through some rough emotional patches during this latest stint in prison, he’s thought plenty about going back to using once he gets out.

“Right now I feel great. I feel there is a chance to be sober,” he said. “But I’m doing it alone and it’s a little overwhelming.”

His goals, he said, are to work toward expunging his record so he won’t have felonies following him around, finding employment and one day going back to school to get a degree in psychology. And above all else, he added, finding a support program to help him “beat back the demons” that took hold so early in his life.

“I feel I’ve let them down,” he said of his mom, who he calls once a week, and his dad, who he describes as “a quiet guy.”

“I have guilt about everything but I am going to try not to let it rule my life.”

His mother insists she will continue to offer support and hold out hope, no matter what it takes.

“If he was a violent person, I would have washed my hands of him,” Hummel said. “But he is smart, he has a good heart. He just wants to get better.”