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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Addiction treatment staff committed to family members, the community

By Jamie Ausk Crisafulli

Ranger-Review Staff Writer


“Our goals is to save one life at a time, one day at a time, and we are,” WATCh East security coordinator Sara Engle said in a recent interview.

The WATCh East program provides addiction treatment to men and women convicted of a felony DUI.  Approximately 90 percent of the people who go through the program do not reoffend with another DUI, one measure of the impact the program has on its family members, as residents of the facility are called.

“We are absolutely 100 percent dedicated to not putting people back on the streets that are going to cause harm to our families or our community,” Engle said.

WATCh East recently marked its 13th anniversary in the Glendive community. 

WATCh East is a cooperative effort of the Glendive community, the Montana Department of Corrections and Community Counseling and Correctional Services, Inc. The facility employs 30 full-time staff, contributing $1.2 million in wages yearly.

Engle has been an employee of WATCh East since 2007.  She started as a security tech and now serves as the security coordinator.

She said she originally had her sights set on working with juveniles. She didn’t want to work with felony offenders. She didn’t think she wanted to work with adults. 

It was at the urging of her mother-in-law, a security tech at the facility at the time, that Engle finally decided to give it a try.

“Honestly I was unaware of what the therapeutic environment entailed,” she said. 

“Finally I said, ‘fine, I’ll try it out,” and I’m so glad I did,” she said.

Now, she has no intention of moving on.

“I’m grounded here in Glendive and I love the program,” she said.

She said she sees that type of commitment from many of the people who work at WATCh East. Many start at entry level positions and move up the ladder or change their path of employment with the system. There are several licensed counselors who got their start as security techs.

Staff training is a key component at WATCh East. The therapeutic environment is constantly evolving, and it is important that staff keep up and adapt, she noted.

Engle said the job of the security staff specifically is to provide “right living teaching and to provide a safe, structured and consistent environments and being available to them,” she said.

“Treating them like human beings, everybody makes mistakes, but still holding them accountable, that’s an important part of our job,” she said.

Watching the family members grow throughout the process is what Engle enjoys the most about her job.

“It doesn’t just happen with our family members, it happens with our staff ... we all grow in here,” she said.

Engle has known hundreds of family members during her time at WATCh East. The facility has had over 1,200 individuals go through their doors since it opened in February 2005.

She never gets individually connected with the family members –  something she attributes to growing up with foster children in her home – but she says she also never forgets who the family members are when they leave.

“It’s part of a knack that you learn here. You have to know their names,” she said.

Many of the family members don’t forget the people who helped them through their treatment either. They send thank you cards and Christmas cards. Some even donate items to the facility after they have left. 

Engle noted that the community of Glendive has also been generous in its donations to the facility. Volunteers from the Attic donate suitcases that aren’t selling there. Our Savior Lutheran recently ran a mission to collect hygiene items for family members.

“We get a lot of people in here who are indigent, they have no money,” she said. 

WATCh East staff members donate their Friday jeans’ money to the indigent fund. That money goes to pay for  HiSET exams or hygiene products for family members who can’t afford them.

Donations are always welcome. Among the most needed items are socks and underwear and hygiene items, Engle noted. Money donated is put directly into the indent fund to purchase those items.

Engle encouraged local residents to contact WATCh East to request a tour of the facility or to attend a graduation ceremony. For more information, contact WATCh East at 377-6001.

Reach Jamie Ausk Crisafulli at rreditor@rangerreview.com.

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