CHESTER, Va. (WRIC) — More than 40 inmates shared a room with members of the public to watch their own battles with addiction play out on camera Monday for the premiere of a docuseries within Chesterfield County Jail.
“Jailhouse Redemption” is the product of three months of recordings inside the Central Virginia correctional facility, where a large crowd of inmates have substance addictions, and where Sheriff Karl Leonard prides himself as a rule-bender. The Discovery+ streaming service series formally premieres Thursday.
Leonard’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) connects inmates suffering from addiction, with mentors who are also incarcerated, and involves deputies directly in their journey to sobriety.
“If you’re serious about changing your life, man, you can just put it on the line,” Lemar Kinnard told 8News before the premiere episode screening in Chester Monday afternoon.
“Look. I’m a walking example,” Kinnard said, touting six months of sobriety and personal strides made after he was involved in the HARP program. He is no longer incarcerated.
“It’s the honor of my life to be able to tell your stories,” a show producer told the crowd.
“It’s true raw reality,” Leonard described.
The 40-year law enforcement veteran is featured prominently throughout the docuseries trailer, where he’s heard saying, “Shame on us. People are dying, and we’ve got to stop that.”
While no one was allowed to film the first episode on Monday — the recordings’ microscopic view of addiction’s grasp on Central Virginia inmates is rare.
Leonard implemented the recovery program after realizing over 80% of offenders coming in had a heroin problem. On Monday, he extended the invite to those same inmates in the documentary at the premiere.
“It’s important that everybody sees where the road took some people, and that success is achievable with that hard work. It’s important for them to be part of it because they’re the ones that do the work,” Leonard added.
It was that very work through the HARP program that helped Marlon Turner recover.
“Change is uncomfortable,” Tuner said, noting that the most uncomfortable part of his journey was “having to look at myself.” Turner, who is no longer incarcerated, added, “As much as I wanted to blame everybody else, it was me.”
Maybe so, but recovery didn’t happen without the mentors who were also at the jail.
“You heard what we had to say, what you do with that is on you,” one inmate — also a HARP participant — can be heard saying in the docuseries trailer.
“If I don’t get it right, I’m gonna end up dead too,” one inmate said.
“Those are the things that go on with addiction that the rest of the world, I don’t think, is seeing,” Leonard is heard saying as the trailer ends.