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Xavier Magazine | September 16, 2014

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Prison Healers: Body and Mind

Prison Healers: Body and Mind
By France Griggs Sloat

Susan Harrod’s first day in jail was eye-opening.

She quickly learned, for instance, that she wasn’t the only Xavier graduate there. Enter Thomas Freytag. 

Although Harrod knew Freytag—both grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio, a town small enough it’s hard not to know everyone else—she didn’t know he was a fellow Musketeer. Harrod graduated in 1991 with a degree in communications and Freytag a biology degree in 1973. Freytag went on to earn a medical degree in 1978, which he now uses as the physician at the Auglaize County Correctional Center. Harrod went on to earn her counseling degree, and since 2005, they have worked as a team to stabilize inmates and reintegrate them into their communities.

“We have to be able to look at the person and not just the crime,” says Harrod. “We were taught at Xavier that every person has value. Four years of philosophy and theology teaches you to think a little deeper and listen a little more carefully.” 

The work is challenging and often unpleasant. Inmates have seemingly insurmountable issues—drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, disease. Their criminal activity is the byproduct of unstable lifestyles and abusive and dysfunctional families.

As clinical coordinator for the jail, Harrod counsels the inmates to assess their lives and mental health, learning what events led them to jail and what needs to happen to change the pattern of self-destructive behavior. As the jail physician, Freytag assesses their physical conditions and provides treatment and medications—sparingly—only after reviewing the results of Harrod’s counseling sessions. “I’m getting to where I see no one until they see her first,” Freytag says. “Most jails just throw meds at them, but I can’t do that. I give them as many tools as I can to be successful when they get out.”

It’s a tag-team approach that has helped Auglaize County achieve one of the lowest recidivism rates among county jails in Ohio—14 percent, well below the national average of 43 percent. It’s part of a larger transition program to connect inmates with resources in the community to help them change their lives.

The reward, Harrod says, is sending inmates into the community healthier than when they arrived and never seeing them again.

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