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A $1,200 shot at staying out of jail. It seems to be working for people who struggle with addiction.
Winston-Salem Journal 

Winston-Salem Journal

Scott Sexton

A late breakfast in the nearly empty Downtown Deli restaurant is hardly the place an inmate struggling with opioid addiction might expect to find help.

Yet it was the main course on offer as a small working group of Forsyth County court officials, prosecutors and mental-health providers picked over eggs and coffee last week while plotting ways to keep alive — and possibly expand — a radical program to help slow the revolving door of low-level offenders through the jail.

In turn, they described the program — so far, a pilot called DATA, which is short for District Attorney’s Treatment Alternatives — its aims, accomplishments and goals.

All with an eye toward convincing the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners that DATA merits renewal somewhere within the $454.2 million annual budget for 2019-20.

“To be honest, I’ve been pretty surprised. Shocked even,” said assistant district attorney Elizabeth Dresel, the prosecutor in charge of screening for inmates who might benefit. “We’ve had one speeding ticket. … The fact that there have been so many (participants) with no re-offending is almost a miracle.”

A better option

Dresel, a lead prosecutor in drug cases, knows of which she speaks. Hundreds, if not thousands, of drug cases pass every year through the Forsyth Hall of Justice.

That’s not new news. Nor is the fact that most are low-level, non-violent and committed by a relatively small number of people who are stealing to feed drug addictions.

Any cop, court clerk or probation officer who’s been on the job more than an hour can tell you they see the same faces facing the same charges day after day after day. In the front door of the county jail and out the back.

First consider the numbers. A study at the Columbia University National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse found that two-thirds of the 2.3 million inmates in American jails and prisons have a substance-abuse problem.

Brought to the local level, the county jail holds roughly 1,000 inmates. It costs about $85 a day to house a single inmate. With an average daily population of, say, 800 inmates, that’d be $68,000 a day, 365 days a year just to run the joint.

That’s a lot of money to keep somebody behind bars. But what if there was a better — different — way?

That’s where DATA can affect the balance sheet.

Here’s the way it was pitched in 2018: qualified inmates, those charged with low-level offenses not eligible for other programs and who pass extensive screenings (including medical testing), receive along with intensive counseling, stepped-up post-release monitoring and an injection of a drug called Vivitrol.

It’s a non-narcotic, extended release medication that blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and alcohol. The FDA approved its use in 2010.

Here’s the headline: the largest study about the use of Vivitrol, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows that those given the drug re-offend at a much lower rate — 43 percent vs. 64 percent of those who relied solely on conventional drug counseling.

Vivitrol is not cheap — $1,200 a shot — and is given once a month.

That’s $12,000 a year. Again, that’s not cheap. But it is lot less than the $31,025 it would cost to house a single jail inmate for the same year. And that doesn’t factor in private insurance or Medicaid covering some (or all) of the cost of Vivitrol.

Nobody gets over

In the pilot DATA program, court officials said, there have been 10 participants since last summer and just the one speeding ticket.

“A son of a childhood friend of mine is a heroin addict,” said Clerk of Court Susan Frye, who retired last week. “I’ve heard him say ‘This saved my life.’ He’s doing good now, on his own and working.”

DATA screening starts the first day someone gets locked up; every incoming inmate has to watch a video presentation as part of the intake process.

“They’re being punished right out of the gate,” said Sherri Cook, a judicial district manager for community supervision with the N.C. Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.

(That’s government-speak for probation. Cook was joking, of course, but only slightly.)

If there’s interest — and if the inmate has hit rock bottom — there’s an interest meeting and the screening process. Dresel checks their criminal records; violent offenders or big-time dealers need not apply.

There’s medical screening, too. An inmate’s liver is tested once drug withdrawal has ended. Those accepted into the program receive the shot of Vivitrol before they’re released and head to inpatient drug treatment.

“We try to raise the level of their reasoning beyond just pain and pleasure responses and to think more about consequences,” said Michael Gray, of Insight Human Services.

Participants also must extensively interact with DATA administrators and probation officers. “Nobody’s getting over on Brenda French,” Frye said of the DATA coordinator.

Drug tests are given three times a week, and even the slightest violation brings a swift response.

“Miss a curfew, we’re on it the next day, not two weeks later,” Cook said. “Consequences are swift, certain and proportionate.”

The heaviest lifting — selling it to county officials in the budget process — falls to District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who is certain to lobby commissioners during the budget process.

“His support is really going to help,” Frye said. “Jim’s job is to prosecute criminals, not help them get treatment or help them get their (driver’s) license back.”

It’s a small sample size, but DATA appears to be working. One speeding ticket is way better than a string of car break-ins.

Vivitrol is cheaper than jail, and it can save or change lives. It seems an easy sale.

Put On Your Purple And Black: National Black Theatre Prepares for Another Run

The National Black Theatre Festival has long been known for its tributes to black entertainers of the past, and this year’s festival will be no exception.

The six-day festival — running July 29 to Aug. 3 at various venues in Winston-Salem — will have tributes to, among others, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith, and Jelly Roll Morton. The festival will also feature a free staged reading of a play about the life of Maya Angelou in advance of its May 2020 official premiere.

“Jelly’s Last Jam” will be the opening night show and members of the original Broadway

cast, including Savion Glover and Keith David, are expected to be at opening night.

On Monday afternoon, about 200 people attended a lively presentation at the Benton Convention Center announcing details of this year’s festival. In keeping with festival tradition, the event was also a tribute to founder Larry Leon Hamlin, who died in 2007. His signature color, purple, was prominently on display, both in the decor and in the clothing of many of the attendees, and his catchphrase “marvtastic” was used several times during the hour-long event.

This is the 30th anniversary of the biennial festival, and the 40th anniversary of the N.C.Black Repertory Company, which Hamlin also founded.

“We have invited 40 celebrity guests, and 30 companies from 14 states and one from Capetown, South Africa, to participate in this historic event,” said Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, Hamlin’s widow and the executive producer of the festival. “All roads lead to black theater holy ground from July 29 through Aug. 3. Over 60,000 people are expected to visit our beautiful city.”

As was previously announced, actors Margaret Avery and Chester Gregory will be co-chairs of this year’s festival, and 18 awards will be given, including the Sidney Poitier Lifelong Achievement Award, which will go to actress Leslie Uggams.

Other winners include Kamilah Forbes, a producer and actress who is receiving the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award; Pearl Cleage, a novelist and playwright who is receiving the August Wilson Playwright Award; Michele Shay, an actress and director who is getting the Lloyd Richards Director Award; and 14 more honorees. They will be recognized at the festival’s opening night gala on July 29.

“You will see some familiar faces among our celebrity guests,” Sprinkle-Hamlin said, “and a few first-timers such as Geoffrey Owens, who played Elvin on the popular ‘Cosby’ show, and R&B recording artist Ledisi.”

Owens attracted national attention last year when The Daily Mail and Fox News seemed to belittle him for working at a Trader Joe’s, which some people viewed as “job shaming.”

To give the audience a taste of what to expect from the festival, the presentation included excerpts from three of this year’s productions — a dance routine from “Prideland: A Dance Adaptation of The Lion King,” by the Greensboro-based The Pointe! Studio of Dance & Elise Jonell Performance Ensemble; and songs by Zakiyyah Niang, from the Black Repertory Company’s production of “Jelly’s Last Jam,” and Sandra Dubose, from “Pooled: A Gospel Musical Drama.”

Other events at this year’s festival will include the Black Rep’s production of “Twelfth Night — Or What You Will, Mon,” a twist on Shakespeare set in Jamaica with music inspired by Bob Marley, with three free showings at Winston Square Park Amphitheatre; “Words & Verses,” an updated version of the festival’s long-running “Midnight Poetry Jam” series; the national youth talent showcase; the adult-skewing one-woman show “Gettin’ Old is a Bitch... But I’m Gonna Wrestle That Bitch to the Ground!” by comedian Mariann Aalda; and “48 Hours in Holy Ground,” in which six playwrights re-imagine several classic plays, including “For Colored Girls,” “Fences” and “Miss Evers’ Boys,” which will be cast, rehearsed and produced over a two-day period as an evening of shorts.

Jackie Alexander, artistic director of the Black Rep, said that the anniversaries would be commemorated in a special way, and that audiences shouldn’t be surprised if they see a film crew milling about during the festival. “We’re going to be shooting a documentary on the festival, long overdue,” he said. “We’re going to capture this energy of the festival. Like I say, it’s the most unique event I’ve ever experienced.”

He recalled his first time meeting Larry Leon Hamlin, back in 2005, when he got a tap on the shoulder and turned around. “He was dressed head to toe in purple!” Alexander said. “I was left speechless, and I was speechless for the rest of the week, it’s the most beautiful event, the energy... I always say it’s everything society tells us black people are not, and we’re going to capture all of that on film and honor it.”

Bid to acquire Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church through foreclosure passes without last-minute upset

No one submitted an upset bid to acquire the Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church property on Lansing Drive by 5 p.m. on Monday, when a 10-day waiting period expired following the foreclosure sale of the property on May 24, trustee Stan Dean said.

Apex Bank, based in Tennessee, was the only bidder on May 24 when the church and its 15-acre site were put up for auction in a foreclosure sale at the Forsyth County Courthouse.

Apex, the holder of a promissory note and deed of trust secured by the church property, entered the sole bid of $3.5 million for the church.

Dean said Monday he has to finish some paperwork in the next several days to formally make the transfer of the property to Apex Bank, but that the expiration of the upset bid period means no one else can acquire the property.

The bank’s bid essentially amounted to the payoff amount on its claim, which stood at $3.3 million when the church went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018.

Attorney Daniel Bruton, representing Apex Bank, said Monday that the bank would presumably be listing the property for sale with the finalization of the transfer.

The church has a storied history in the African American community as one of the city’s oldest congregations. It was founded in 1893, and has been led by Bishop Sheldon McCarter for the past 30 years. Occupying modern buildings built in 1999 and in 2000, it has used the name Greater Church in recent years.

No one was answering telephone calls at the church on Monday afternoon. A woman seen pushing a cart loaded with boxes from the church around 4 p.m. said she had no connection with the church, and that she did not know what the church’s plans were for conducting services this Sunday.

The woman appeared to be the only person on the property. A white car was parked in a slot labeled for the finance director, but the woman said no one connected with the car was on the property.

Apex Bank had offered to settle with Greater Church for $2.7 million last year, and that had some people thinking the church property might go for a discount when the foreclosure auction was held on May 24.

The sale went forward after bankruptcy Judge Catharine Aron ruled against the church on May 22, during a hearing lasting almost two hours in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The church was trying to change the terms of a reorganization plan in a way that would have allowed it to stay on the property.

The property consists of a church sanctuary and family life center on the 15-acre site.

The property has a tax value of $6.3 million, although the church paid no property tax because of its religious exemption.

The church borrowed the money leading to its current troubles in 2009. The original lender was Southern Community Bank and Trust, and the amount of the loan was $3.75 million. Apex Bank, based in Tennessee, acquired the loan in 2016.

The church proposed and agreed to a reorganization plan earlier this year in which the church would either obtain new financing or surrender the property. When an April 20 deadline passed and the property was not turned over to Apex, the bank moved forward with the foreclosure sale.

Couple indicted on additional charges related to deaths of nine alpacas and one goat on Forsyth County farm.

A couple have been indicted on additional charges connected to the deaths of nine alpacas and one goat on a Walnut Cove farm.

Joey Gray Moser, 39, of the 5300 block of Lake Woussicket Road in Walnut Cove, and Kimberly Dawn Moser, 47, of Routh Road in Burlington, were initially indicted on numerous felony animal-cruelty charges last year. On Monday, a Forsyth County jury handed down indictments on new charges and superseding indictments on older charges.

The indictments accuse the couple of killing or causing to be killed nine alpacas and one goat by the “intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance.” The indictments also allege that the couple maliciously tortured the animals by “permitting unjustifiable pain and suffering.”

The indictments also include misdemeanor charges alleging that Joey Moser and Kimberly Moser failed to bury a dead domesticated animal to a depth of at least three feet beneath the surface of the ground within 24 hours of knowing about the animal’s death.

In total, they each face a total of 30 felony and misdemeanor charges related to the deaths of the alpacas and the goat, according to the indictments.

Alpacas are members of the camelid family and are distinct from llamas. They typically live between 15 and 20 years and are considered domesticated animals, according to the Alpaca Owners Association’s website.

Last year, Lt. David Morris of the Forsyth County Animal Control said animal-control officers were called to 5330 Lake Woussicket Road on Feb. 21, 2018, on a report about dead livestock. Morris said that Joey and Kimberly Moser were charged after an investigation. Morris declined to provide other details.

But according to an affidavit to a search warrant, Deputy G. Lancaster wrote that he went to the property on Feb. 21, 2018 and while standing at a metal gate, he smelled rotting and decaying flesh.

“Entering the gate, I saw the open entrance door on the west side of the above barn,” Lancaster wrote in the search warrant. “The entrance door was open, and I could see multiple dead chickens inside the barn while standing outside.”

Lancaster said he eventually found 11 dead chickens. On another part of the property, he saw a brown-and-black goat lying dead outside the main house, and flies were landing on the goat’s body.

Outside another building, Lancaster wrote he could see eight dead animals that appeared to be goats and alpacas.

“There did not appear to be any food or water inside the building with the dead animals,” he said in the search-warrant request, and he could smell “an odor consistent with decaying flesh.”

Charlie Mellies, an attorney who had represented Joey Moser last year, told the Winston-Salem Journal that the Mosers had been raising alpacas for at least five years. Joey Moser had a full-time job, and Kimberly Moser quit her job to take care of the animals on the farm, he said.

He also said part of the problem is that alpacas don’t often show signs of illness because they are herd animals and they try to look strong for the herd.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Breeding, who is prosecuting the case, said a trial is tentatively scheduled for sometime in August.