I advocate a four pillar approach to recovery from substance use disorder and reentry from incarceration.

November 1, 2019

I am the Associate Dean of Instruction and District Director of Student Counseling & Advising Services at the Golden Triangle Campus of East Mississippi Community College.  We have about 4,000 students and serve six counties in East Central Mississippi.  Like everyone’s life journey, mine is unique.  During my own direct involvement with the criminal justice system twenty-five years ago, I was encouraged to enter graduate school, which opened doors for some early advocacy activities and work experiences. After graduation, I was about to become employed at my alma mater, Mississippi State University where I worked for some years with historically black universities, state and national agencies, and foundations where I focused on disability policy, research and program evaluation.  Through this period I was involved with a prison fellowship doing faith-based advocacy.  Then, in 2010, a colleague got me interested in work she was doing with former child soldiers and people escaping human trafficking in Africa, so I left my job at Mississippi State and joined these efforts in to Uganda.  There we built a therapeutic community where former child soldiers could live for 18 months while they were receiving workforce training, parenting skills, and counseling so that they could build a new life for themselves.

After working with my friends in Africa, I joined Christian Changes Counseling and Recovery Center – a local faith-based counseling group – and began my current association with the East Mississippi Community College.  Eventually, I became the Board President for a young organization, Southern Recovery Advocacy (SRA).  We’re advocating what’s known as a “four pillar approach” to recovery from substance use disorders and reentry from incarceration.  The four pillar approach is a framework for action based on the principles of harm reduction.  We can’t arrest ourselves out of our substance use crisis. In my part of the world, law enforcement has historically had the perspective of, if we make it hard enough on people, they’ll seek help. That hasn’t worked.  Recovery isn’t a linear process.  It has peaks and valleys.  As a field we have to do a better job of helping the public understand that people with substance use disorders are not criminals; they have a disease and they need our help.

A little more than a year ago, the Mississippi CREATE Foundation asked the Golden Triangle area—comprising Columbus, Starkville and West Point—to identify the five biggest problems limiting the community’s growth, and crime and addiction were one of them. I became a member of the crime and addiction task force, and we formed a speakers bureau that available to churches, civic clubs, educational institutions–wherever anybody will have us to talk about prevention, treatment, and alternatives to jail.  We have opened a much needed dialogue between people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system and young people going into careers in law enforcement.  I’ve led most of the discussions from the directly impacted person’s side and it’s been going really well.  We’re having a conference in December at the University of Mississippi tentatively titled “Making and Unmaking Mass Incarceration.”   It feels like in the South we’re behind the curve in bringing about criminal justice reform, so opening dialogue is critical for us.  It’s a work in progress.

Leading with Conviction is extremely valuable.  I’ve had other leadership opportunities over the years, but this is like all those put together on steroids.  Words fail me.  I’ve always had a longing in my spirit to be more directly connected with folks in the justice world, but there haven’t been real opportunities in my part of the world.  Moving into this space is an indescribable privilege.

William Sansing is a Licensed Professional Counselor and completed a dual Ph.D. program in Sociology, and Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services & Sociology from Mississippi State University. He is a part-time mental health and alcohol & drug therapist with Christian Changes Counseling & Recovery Center and The Oxford Treatment Center.

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