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Dan Cain

President, RS Eden

So Fair a House, a Testament to Second Chances

The year was 1971.  Richard Nixon was president.  A gallon of gas was 40 cents.  A new Dodge Charger cost just over $3,500.  "The French Connection" and "A Clockwork Orange"  were top grossing movies. "Imagine" was released by John Lennon following the breakup of the Beatles.  The Charles Manson trial was big news.  And the Viet Nam War was in full swing.

The conflict in Southeast Asia brought with it a new phenomenon; large numbers of soldiers returning with drug habits, primarily heroin.  Addiction would no longer remain stereotyped as the scourge of low lifes, hippies and a "ghetto problem".  It had touched "our boys" and mainstream America.  The country scrambled to find a response, prompting Nixon to declare "war on drugs", and for the first, and only, time fully fund a treatment response.  Local Veteran's Administration Hospitals scrambled to find an effective way to treat those addicted to narcotics, recognizing the 12 Step, 28 day response to be less effective with this new population. 

At the same time in Minnneapolis three individuals saw the need for a different approach and began Eden House, a private non-profit modeled as a therapeutic community--a long-term program for those most seriously addicted to narcotics.  With support from the Minneapolis VA and local VFW's, Eden House was designed not only to treat addiction, but to also address the multitude of often underlying problems contributing to, or resulting from addiction such as isolation, dispair, homelessness, mental illness and criminal behavior.  The program was 12-18 months long, and, since the prevailing attitude toward drug addicts had always been, "nothing works", it was given a lot of latitude in it's approach to improving lives.  Because it was new, and untested, the participants devleoped an "us against the world" attitude, and a camaraderie similar to that experienced in combat.  Evolving into a living learning process that was a combination of traditional treatment, therapy, education and the regimented personal responsibility associated with the military, the program showed a great deal of promise and previously unachieved success.

In 1972,  Eden House began to work closely with the criminal justice system to test how this model would work with a group of inmates who had histories of addiction.  The Department of Corrections slowly began releasing a few inmates on early parole to Eden House.  Based on the success achieved by these parolees, referrals began to come from a wide variety of correctional settings.  And in 1973,  in recognition that some offenders could be effectively served in the community, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Community Corrections Act.

In 1976, in the East Metro, another program, initially designed for those leaving prison with no supportive place to go began operations.  Reentry Services was originally housed  in the St. Paul YMCA, later evolving into 3 transitional half-way houses, serving both men and women releasees and probationers.

Over the years there were many milestones for both programs, some good, some not so good.  But in 2000, at the beginning of the new Millenium, the two merged into RS EDEN.  These newly merged programs saved precious resources by not duplicating administrative expenses, and each was able to build on the strengths of the other.

Today RS EDEN operates a network of substance abuse treatment progrrams, correctional half-way houses, a drug testing lab, en electronic home detention service that contracts wtih the Minnesota Department of Corrections to monitor the most serious offenders, a supervision program for community work crews, nearly 400 units of transitional and permanent sober, supportive housing, a commercial kitchen providing meals to other programs as well as our own, and Fresh Grounds, a community cafe that serves double duty as a jobs training program.

Last year, that small community program that started out with a capacity of 28 men, served just over 6700 men, women and children.

On September 9th, RS EDEN will celebrate 40 years of rebuilding communities one person at a time. A celebration and reunion will be held at the Hard Rock Cafe in Downtown Minneapolis.  Everyone who has been involved with Eden House, Eden Programs, Reentry Services, Watchguard (r), RSI Labs, Fresh Grounds, Alliance Apartments, Portland Village, Jackson Street Village, Central Avenue Apartments, Seventh Landing or Dillon Apartments is invited and welcome to attend.  Whether you were a clieint/tenant, a staff member, a Board member,a  family member, a referral agent, a policy maker or a supporter and friend; you are invited,  And in fact, since finding people who might have been a part of RS EDEN over the past 40 years is a chellenge if not impossible, please pass this invitation on as well.  The party starts at 5:00 p.m. and goes until 9:00.

Whatever happened to Jobs and the Economy?

H. L. Mencken once opined, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”.

The truth in that statement often results in policy makers exaggerating the need for their existence, discounting objective data and at times solving problems that don’t exist.

Then Governor Pawlenty’s actions, redacting major portions of a legislatively commissioned report on treatment of Minnesota Sex Offenders, is the most recent example.  The report, while compiled by people who actually work with sex offenders, and who most people would consider experts, did not gel with Pawlenty’s political ambitions, or his intuitive beliefs.  And since he held the bully pulpit, he, or his minions, decided what the legislature, and by extension the public, should hear.

Now, at least one of our elected representatives has suggested castration as a punishment.  Perhaps this amused his committee, or the people he represents, but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Constitution, and its’ protections against cruel and unusual punishment, knows better.  And I would guess that Introductory State Representative Class 101 includes some reference to the Constitution.  But then maybe he was just playing to the media.  When the expert witness told him that there were many motivating factors in why people offended, and testosterone was rarely one of them, he opined, “well it works on the farm”.  Unfortunately, his experience suggests he knows as little about farming as he does about sex offenders.  Before being elected to the legislature, he sold insurance.

The same committee that was asked to consider castration for sex offenders has also endorsed a proposal to certify 10 year olds as adults in serious criminal cases.  It has been brought up for at least the past 4 years, but never passed out of committee before now.  No one can ever remember a case where a 10 year old was convicted of the types of crimes covered by the proposed certification provision.  The law change is being sought by the parents of a young girl who was tragically murdered by her daycare providers’ 13 year old son.  They are more than entitled to be passionate in their quest to make some sense of their daughters’ death, and take steps to assure others don’t suffer a loss like theirs.  But putting a 3rd grader in the adult corrections system likely would not have prevented the death of their daughter.   The truth is, we can never eliminate risk, we can only manage it.  Groups that represent both law enforcement and County Attorneys, along with corrections professionals, behaviorists and experts on the development the adolescent brain have all testified against the proposed law change.   The committee passed it nonetheless.

Coincidentally, the committee also endorsed a proposal to make the sale of handguns to adults, who do committ the kinds of crimes referenced above, less cumbersome.

Back in grade school social studies, we learned that we elect our policy makers to represent us, and make difficult, but informed, decisions.  We also need them to be courageous, and not pander to the base fears and intuitive quest for simple solutions that we all lean toward.  We need them to listen to the experts, not play to the media simply to create a platform from which to skewer their opponents for voting against a law they never intended to pass anyway.  In short, we need them to act like adults. 

Somebody should pass a law.