2017-08-12 / Front Page

Speaker urges inmates to take sobering path

Senior Staff Writer

ALFRED — When John Shinholser was a young man, love beckoned.

“I met my own true love,” he told a group of about 30 York County Jail inmates on Friday. “Alcohol. I liked everything about it.”

Shinholser fell hard for the love of his life — and it nearly felled him. In trouble while he was in the Marine Corps, he was given two choices: Go to rehab or go to the brig.  

He chose the former and now, 35  years later, he is still sober and along with his wife Carol McDaid, is the founder of the McShin Foundation, a Virginia-based recovery support program for those addicted to alcohol or drugs or both. The foundation maintains 170 sober home beds in Richmond.

Shinholser stopped by York County Jail on Friday to give two motivational talks to inmates. His appearance in Maine is part of a nationwide tour. He’s been in 22 states and is off to Alabama next week. After that, he hopes to talk to jail and prison inmates in Rhode Island, Connecticut and other eastern seaboard states.

York County Sheriff William King said Shinholser wrote about 8 months ago, asking if he could talk to those incarcerated. While York County Jail hosts 12-step programs for inmates, he pointed out that the nature of a jail incarceration — mostly short-term stays — does not lend itself to long-term programs.

King pointed out that when people leave York County Jail, they are no longer physically addicted to substances. But some who are released quickly fall back into old habits — which can take a deadly turn, he said.

In an interview prior to the talk, King estimated that “north of 80 percent” of the 200 inmates incarcerated at York County Jail on Friday were inside directly or indirectly because of substance abuse.

Shinholser is a strong advocate of 12-step programs. Those who are part of the McShin Foundation’s sober house programs are required to attend 14, 12-step programs each week; undergo random drug testing and face immediate eviction for relapse to other housing until ready for readmission. They observe a 10 p.m. curfew for the first 30 days, attend a fellowship dinner, weekly meditation or church service, and do daily chores.

The programs he operates do not currently receive government subsidies, Shinholser said following the morning session. He said he uses a sliding scale fee for folks who are looking to get clean and sober.  

He appeared to have an easy rapport with inmates — perhaps because prior to his own recovery he had been arrested 12 times.

He asked the inmates how many of them had a re-entry plan for when their incarceration is over.

Two hands went up, of the 30 inmates in the room.

“You are the only one who can make the decision not to use, no matter what,” he said.

Shinholser was accompanied by three young men, who each spoke briefly. One fellow spoke of taking positive steps and then relapsing  and starting again — and is now marking 70 days of being clean and sober.

A second man was marking 38 days of sobriety.

A third, named Joe, said he’d be 21 years old in two months. 

“Drugs controlled my life,” he said. He is marking 29 days clean and sober.

Shinholser spoke in encouraging terms.

“You can find a new way to live,” he told inmates. “Everyone I know who stays clean does not regret it. One hundred percent of those who don’t, regret it.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

Return to top