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Jail inmates tell stories of addiction, hope
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Jack Howard looks forward to getting out of jail and returning to things he enjoys, like fishing.
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Jennifer Woodlee enjoys volunteering her time at Warren County Animal Control while an inmate at the jail. She is pictured with Fighter, a cat she will take home with her when she’s released from jail.

Warren County Jail houses 239 inmates at this time. With the opioid and substance abuse crisis on a steady incline, many people end up in jail due to actions brought on by their addictions. 

It’s easy to forget the lives behind the bars and the stories they have to tell. Jack Howard and Jennifer Woodlee are two people who have suffered from addiction leading to serving time in Warren County Jail.

Jack Howard, a 23-year-old McMinnville native, was arrested in March 2018. He went to the Tony Rice Center and spent three months undergoing rehabilitation, counseling and learning about his addiction. He highly recommends it to others struggling with substance abuse. After his stay in rehab, Howard was brought back to jail to finish his sentence and works as a kitchen trustee until his release date in July.

Howard grew up on a nursery, where his father was his best friend. When he was 14, his dad died of cancer and Jack began using meth and prescription drugs to cope with the pain from that loss. As the years continued, he became rebellious and stopped going to school. He was arrested several times for a variety of crimes.

Through rehabilitation, Howard learned to take responsibility for his actions and says, “I don’t blame other people for my problems. A lot of people’s parents pass away. That is not an excuse I can use anymore. Everything I’ve done, I have done to myself.”

Howard suffers with depression, anxiety and ADD, an acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder. He began drinking and smoking marijuana at a young age to self-medicate. His substance abuse played a large role in the crimes he committed, including selling drugs to pay for his own habit, leading to his arrest this current time.

Jack says, “I’m not a bad person. I just made bad choices.”

Going to the Tony Rice Center helped him find a relationship with God that has made him stronger and helped him cope with being in jail. He has learned to love himself for who he is today and appreciate the little things in life.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. It’s the simple things you miss the most,” says Howard.

Jack has advice for the younger generation. “It’s important to stay in school, and if a person feels as though they are slipping into something dangerous, it’s OK to ask for help,” he says.

Howard plans to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in order to stay sober after his release, as well as finding a good church and a job. He believes the reason people fall back into the rotating cycle of being in and out of jail is due to hanging around the same people as before. 

Jack is incredibly thankful for his mom, who has supported him through this process and is excited to see her when he gets out.

Jennifer Woodlee, a 37-year-old wife, mother and grandmother of four, is completing a two-year sentence after violating probation. Jennifer was in and out of jail from 2010 to 2013. She was brought to jail in October and is expecting to be released between May and June.

After violating probation from the sentence that was first given to her in 2010, she was clean from meth for four years and had settled down. Woodlee is now finishing out sentence as a trustee and works at Warren County Animal Control and Adoption Center. 

She didn’t think she would enjoy it because she has never been an animal person. However, it has made a huge difference in her life. 

Kim Petrey, director of Animal Control, has offered her a full-time job once she gets out. Jennifer has a pet cat named Fighter at the center that she nurtured back to health. She is excited to bring him home to her little boys upon being released.  

“I am not the same person I used to be,” says Woodlee.

Jennifer was devastated upon being taken to jail this time. She had never been away from her 1-year-old and had only been separated from her 3-year-old for a few days. She was fearful of leaving them. Since she knew she was going to be arrested at some point, Woodlee was also relieved to be able to put this behind her while her children are still young. 

“I wasn’t a real mama until I had my two youngest kids and settled down. Now my favorite thing is learning from my children,” says Jennifer.

Woodlee believes this experience has given her an entirely new outlook on life. She has found a deeper connection with God and began studying her Bible. She believes it has been her biggest success while being in jail. 

“God has opened doors for me, especially regarding the job at the shelter. Finding God has helped me find myself,” says Jennifer.

Jennifer’s parents got divorced when she was young, creating a tough situation for her. She had her daughter when she was 16. A year later, she tried meth for the first time. Her mother received custody of her daughter after her first arrest that year. Jennifer stayed clean for several years until her 3-year-old son was taken from her after violating probation. She turned to meth again as a coping mechanism. 

Since the age of 9, she was prescribed Adderall and Xanax for her ADD. Being without her medication in jail has helped her realize she can successfully live without it.

Woodlee says, “Since the new jail administration has taken over, it has been so much better. However, I do believe the system needs to have a program to help those who suffer with mental health issues. Jail is not the answer for everyone.”

Jennifer also believes there needs to be drug and alcohol classes for inmates to learn how to rehabilitate themselves after being released to stop the cycle of repeatedly coming back. 

Jennifer wants the younger generation to learn from her mistakes and realize addiction doesn’t just hurt the individual using, but their family as well. She feels she has become a better person through this experience, as well as a better mother. 

Jennifer wants to come back to the jail after being released to preach the word of God to the inmates and show them they can also be successful after serving time in jail.

“I am looking forward to being a mother to all four of my children once I get out. I can’t wait to have this all behind me,” says Jennifer. 

Inmates housed in the jail are human beings with family, friends and loved ones. They are not simply prisoners. They are people with hopes and dreams of a better future.