Inmates finding sobriety through Lakota culture, spirituality

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PINE RIDGE VILLAGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- A sobriety class based on Lakota culture and traditions is helping inmates on the Pine Ridge Reservation put jail in the rear view mirror.

The 10-week Seven Directions program uses Lakota language, culture and spirituality as a pathway to discovering a way to live life without drugs and alcohol.

"They have to find within themselves, who they are as Lakota people to get that strength back again," said Chissie Spencer who runs the program and who has been sober for 28 years. "Somewhere along the line there was trauma and other things that happened in their lives that caused them to use alcohol and drugs."

The program is getting results according to Pine Ridge corrections officials who say only 15 percent of graduates turn back up in jail.

The national average? About 67 percent, according to Department of Justice statistics.

"The spirituality and culture has more strength because of who they are and when you find that strength inside of yourself as Lakota people you can't go wrong," said Spencer, who has been offering the Seven Directions program at the jail in Pine Ridge for three years. "You're going to find who you are and who our people are and that alcohol and drugs wasn't part of our way of life."

On Tuesday, the latest class graduated at the Adult Offender Facility just outside of Pine Ridge Village. Graduates got certificates and tipped their hats to Spencer and the program.

"I kind of found some inner things that I never knew was there," said graduate William Plenty Arrows. "The spiritual part kind of did a whole lot of change for me. I found the father inside of me that I should be."

The idea of a sobriety program based on Lakota traditions and culture piqued interest in the Pennington County Jail where on average 55 percent of the inmates are Native American.

"We're always open to opportunities that exist," said Brooke Haga, the support captain at the Pennington County Jail. "It's no secret that we have a lot of Native Americans inside our jail and I think any native American program would be beneficial."