Because of methamphetamine, Kenny Belyeu, 48, lost his job. His wife left him. The bank foreclosed on his house. All because of methamphetamine.
He was also close to losing his freedom before entering a program at Oklahoma City-based nonprofit The Education and Employment Ministry.
“When I start using meth, I won’t stop until I go to jail,” Belyeu said.
The interfaith TEEM program helps people charged with or convicted of a crime turn their lives around after incarceration or avoid prison.
After convictions for drug possession and assault with a dangerous weapon, Belyeu was in danger of going to prison after probation office staff caught him cheating on a drug test with fake urine.
Belyeu came to TEEM facing as much as three to five years of prison. With the program’s help, Belyeu got into a sober living house, and found a job in the kitchen at a steakhouse in downtown Oklahoma City.
A year and a half after entering the program, Belyeu has become a certified peer recovery support specialist at TEEM.
Belyeu earned the certification through a program at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. He now mentors other recovering addicts, serving as a role model and a source of support for people in the program.
Belyeu said he felt the staff at TEEM cared about him — which made him start caring about himself.
“They helped me with my self esteem,” Belyeu said. “Nobody felt worse about me than I did. I didn’t feel I was worthy of having a good life. I was a lost soul.”
With Oklahoma’s strained prison system hovering at around 113 percent capacity, TEEM says its program makes financial sense for the state as well helps break cycles of addiction, poverty and incarceration.
In 2017, TEEM served 1,381 participants. The program moved to a new brick, three-story office building in 2016 in Midtown Oklahoma City with enough capacity to eventually serve 3,000 people.
TEEM’s reentry program helps incarcerated men and women join the workforce after prison through vocational training programs and classes on interview skills and resume writing.
Hayden Harris, a site supervisor for TEEM’s reentry program, said many people transitioning from prison have thousands of dollars in court costs and fines to pay off, but no job or even a place to live when they get out.
“It’s hard if you used to make $1,200 a day selling dope to go to making $7.25 an hour at McDonald’s. It’s a struggle, but we’ve had a lot of success stories,” Harris said.
TEEM provides participants with things like GED preparation, legal assistance and professional certifications for fork lift operation or a commercial drivers license.
The nonprofit offers a pretrial release program that is focused on helping people charged with a crime find housing, transportation, employment and help for substance abuse and mental illness.
The goal is to help people demonstrate to the courts they are worthy of rehabilitation instead of incarceration. TEEM claims the pretrial program saves the state $34.12 per day, per person it keeps out of the prison system.
TEEM’s community sentencing program offers mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job placement services for people convicted of a crime. Participants must be sentenced into the program for three years by an Oklahoma County judge.
Andy Hall, job placement coordinator at TEEM works with employers, encouraging companies consider hiring people from the program. There’s still a lot of misconceptions to overcome. Many companies still have policies against hiring felons.
There’s also transportation challenges — many people dealing with addiction or getting out of prison don’t have a car to drive to work. TEEM helps participants get bus passes.
Many people need help with things like projecting self confidence during a job interview — soft skills like looking an interviewer in the eye, Hall said.
“A lot of people getting out of prison have self-image problems, they feel bad about themselves, we work to overcome that,” Hall said.
Belyeu still lives at the sober living house TEEM helped him find—now his brother lives there too. For the first time in years, Belyeu said he believes in himself.
“TEEM wanted to see me succeed and that made a difference,” he said.