BB counselors hear straight talk on drugs
By JENN DIRECTOR KNUDSEN
article created on: 2009-00-29T00:00:00
At 12, Cole Richman smoked weed every day, a habit that got him kicked out of a Texas military academy at which he excelled in school and sports. By 14 and in a public school in Southern California, he’d moved on to heroin.
He dropped out of high school his sophomore year, and by 19, a seemingly helpless addict, Richman had had three stints in jail, totaling three years under lock and key.
“There are two people in this world: Johnny Law and Johnny Outlaw,” Richman said, recalling his mindset five years ago. “And I was Johnny Outlaw.”
Richman says he was released from his final jail sentence at 2 a.m., a strategy to keep newly freed addicts from buying alcohol the night they’re let out.
Once on the outside, he was desperate for human contact. Richman says he spent two hours calling everyone he knew; no one answered the phone. Until, as morning came on, he placed his final call: to his mother.
He recalls she told him she wanted to send him to a Jewish rehabilitation center. He laughed and hung up. A week later, he called his mom back, ready to learn more about this place in West Los Angeles called Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish faith-based, 12-step rehab program. (See box for more information.)
“That was God stepping in,” Richman said via phone from Beit T’Shuvah.
Now 24, sober, armed with a mission and a certified counselor, Richman tells his powerful story with frankness and humor to teenagers and young adults all over the country, in Jewish day schools, in synagogues, at Jewish camps.
Richman, a Beit T’Shuvah certified drug and alcohol counselor and assistant director of the rehab center’s Partners in Prevention program, will be at B’nai B’rith Camp June 25 to 28. This is Beit T’Shuvah’s first time in Oregon.
Richman and colleague Carley O’Neill, 22, a former Beit T’Shuvah resident and its young team facilitator, will share their stories and run Jewish-themed discussion groups and workshops based on published materials for BB Camp’s 25 staff members and 45 counselors in advance of the Devils Lake-based camp opening its gate to nearly 500 summer campers.
Rachel Rothstein, BB Camp’s assistant director, invited Beit T’Shuvah’s Partners in Prevention program north at a cost of $1,500.
What caught her attention is its innovative, raw, Jewish approach to helping teens both steer clear from drug and alcohol abuse and make good decisions, in all facets of life.
“It’s not just strictly about not using drugs, but it’s about good decision-making, in a Jewish context,” Rothstein, 26, said.
“They (teenagers and young adults) have to understand what they do for an hour tonight makes the difference tomorrow, next day, next year” in their lives and those of the campers in their care, she emphasized.
Rothstein said Partners is Prevention is religiously and spiritually based but “not preachy,” a methodology to which teens turn a deaf ear.
In a phone interview from Beit T’Shuvah Doug Rosen, Partners in Prevention’s coordinator, said it’s straight talk that gets through to teens.
“If they ask us if drugs are fun, what’re we gonna tell them?” Rosen, 32, asked rhetorically. “Yes, they are.”
He continued, “When we speak truth to kids, they listen…because kids are the biggest censors of bull (pucky).”
And they are a group naturally given to experiment with substances, sex and other risky behaviors.
Partners in Prevention provides sobering statistics, including:
•Ten percent of teens report they’ve attended a rave; ecstasy and other drugs were available at more than 60 percent of these raves;
•20 percent of eighth graders report they have tried marijuana; and
•28 percent of teens know a classmate or friend who has used ecstasy.
The Jewish community is not immune from the pressures that lead to substance abuse and has addicts in its midst, Rosen said.
While there are no drug-use statistics specific to the Jewish community, he said the Beit T’Shuvah center’s 120 beds “always are full and (we) have a waiting list of 30” for teens and young adults ages 18 and up.
Rothstein believes camp counselors (ages 17 to 20) are the perfect audience for Beit T’Shuvah’s messages. “[M]any are at a critical juncture in their life, with so many things to try and decisions to make,” she said.
She continued, “Many don’t know there is a Jewish point of view on all the decisions they have to make. Beit T’Shuvah really shows different ways of approaching a problem and using the basis in Judaism to help kids make better decisions.”
Also, the field of Jewish camping is professionalizing. BB Camp, for example, is sending its third cohort of senior staff to fellowship programs to ensure top-notch training and, ultimately, care of their younger charges.
“It’s fun,” Richman said of the program he and O’Neill will run. “We’re gonna laugh, and we’re gonna learn, and that’s the most important.”