When Nathan Mitchell was an inmate in the Fauquier County Adult Detention Center on a drug possession charge in 2017, he remembers buying coffee and sweets at the canteen. “For me, it was all about instant gratification. It was February and I didn’t have socks -- but I had candy and coffee.”
Mitchell remembers when someone at the jail -- who was there working with a drug rehab program -- looked at his feet and said, “You look cold.”
After more than two years, Mitchell is still amazed that “He gave me socks. It was amazing. I learned there were people who could love me when I couldn’t love myself.”
He remembers when the Rev. James Gould of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church came to talk to inmates. “He talked to me like I was a human being.”
He said, “There were people who came in to talk to us that had been in my shoes and were living a clean life. They told us that if they could do it, so could we.”
The program he found in the jail was the impetus for a turnaround.
He remembers when a friend came to pick him upon his release from jail. He had walked over to the McShin Recovery Resource Foundation building (now SpiritWorks) across from the jail to wait. “We weren’t even out of the parking lot and he was offering me drugs. I said ‘no’ and walked back to McShin.”
Mitchell made his way to the McShin Foundation headquarters in Richmond, where he is now the foundation’s community outreach and advocacy coordinator.
He and three other McShin supporters spent Friday afternoon creating a display of white crosses on Shirley Avenue in Warrenton across from Taylor Middle School. The aim was to create a 3,500-cross display to represent the 3,500 Virginia residents who lost their lives to drug-related causes in 2017. It’s called the White Marker Project.
Some of the crosses are marked with the names of those who died. Mitchell knew several of those memorialized on the crosses, including his best friend. He died of a drug-related heart attack 12 years ago at age 35. He was found by his 13-year-old son, Mitchell said.
Mitchell started using drugs at age 18; he is now 43. He said for a long time he was “pretty functional.”
He said he started using heavier drugs when he was about 22 but it wasn’t until he was in his mid-30s that he went “full-on into self-destructive behavior. By the time I was 39 or 40, I didn’t want to live.”
He said the first time he was in the Fauquier County Adult Detention Center, there was no program for those who were addicted. “We were all there on drug charges, and while I was there, all we talked about was drugs.”
He said by the time he was back in jail for the second time, “I was exhausted. I couldn’t get a clearance to do my job in D.C. I couldn’t vote.”
But by then, the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office had a drug program.
Fauquier County Sheriff Bob Mosier explained, “Right after we took office in 2016, we had the Travis Project, building community awareness (Narcan for Deputies) and Wally and Pat Smith with Celebrate Recovery. In 2017, we had McShin, which transitioned to SpiritWorks. That was all behavioral-assisted treatment. In 2019 we introduced our first medically assisted treatment program with help from the director of the Community Services Board, Jim LaGraffe.”
As he pounded a white cross into the ground, Mitchell was thoughtful, “This is the first time I’ve been back in Warrenton since I got out of jail.”
He said, “I’m so grateful. This little jail in a rural community. They gave us hope.”
Reach Robin Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org