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Prison counsellor, Pride Bermuda executive honoured

Weddings are almost always poignant but this summer substance abuse counsellor Laura Sikora attended one that was more so than most.

It was the wedding of a former client who not only had got his life back on track, but had become a programme director in the very programme that Ms Sikora worked with him as a client.

“It is that sort of thing that makes it all worth while,” she said.

Ms Sikora a counsellor at The Right Living House at The Farm Facility in St George's received the Substance Abuse Counselor of the Year award from the Bermuda Addiction Certification Board and the Department for National Drug Control. Truell Landy of Pride Bermuda received Prevention Professional of the Year.

Ms Sikora works mostly with males in the prison system and Ms Landy works with young people in the community, two very different populations, but they both believe that a life skills approach is one of the best ways to combat drug addiction.

“We see children falling through the cracks,” said Ms Landy. “Often times we stand below and try to catch them.

“We need to go back to the beginning and find out what it is that is causing them to fall in the first place. We need to find out what has been neglected and what needs to be repaired.”

She said in the old days, people tried to dissuade young people from abusing drugs and alcohol with scare tactics, but that largely did not work.

“Prevention is all about getting young people to think for themselves,” she said. “It is about getting them to be analytical and have good decision making skills so they can see and analyse a problem and look at all the solutions and consequences.”

Ms Sikora said very often when they start working with people in the prison system they find that it's not a question of the client having lost life skills when they started to abuse drugs it's that they never had them to begin with. Many of her clients have to be taught coping skills from scratch.

“We do whole person treatment,” she said. “We call life skills the core skills. We teach our clients how to respond instead of react. We teach them how to be assertive instead of aggressive.”

She said around 75 percent of people in the prison system have committed a crime that relates directly or indirectly to substance abuse.

Ms Sikora is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas. She was working in a therapeutic drug treatment programme in the prison system in Delaware when she met a group from Bermuda who wanted to bring a similar programme model to Bermuda's prison system.

She came to Bermuda in 2009 to help set up The Right Living House which was up and running the next year. Inmates choose to be part of the programme.

They live at The Farm, but have separate housing. They work on life skills daily, and operate under a system of reward and privilege removal.

“All of our staff is Bermudian,” Ms Sikora said. “I was brought in because of my credentials and knowledge of the model to train and help the counsellors.”

She said so far the Right Living House is are fairly new so there is no firm data.

“I do know that out of the 21 who have successfully completed the programme we have only seen four come back with new charges,” she said. “We have had some others come back to relapse and it was a violation of their parole. Unfortunately, relapse is sometimes a part of their recovery.”

Ms Sikora has a Bachelor's degree in sociology and criminal justice. She started out working with the Sheriffs Department in Little Rock doing tasks like suicide risk assessment, intake interviews and referrals.

“I saw a lot of people who had good traits about them when they came down from the drugs and alcohol and were taken out of the street environment,” she said. “I left there to go to the Department of Community Corrections.

“At the time they were converting all their facilities over to drug treatment facilities using a model called therapeutic community.

“When I was there I was given the choice to work in the treatment side or stay on the security side. I thought I was better suited and could have a better impact through the treatment side.”

She said she was very surprised when she received the award. “It was unexpected,” she said.

Ms Landy also said she was surprised to win her award.

“I knew that there are only a few of us in the prevention field, but it was a pleasant surprise,” she said. “We just love what we do.”

She has been working full time with PRIDE for twelve years, and before that she worked with them as a schools facilitator.

“I was drawn to this field out of a combination of life's experiences, both personal as well as in school,” she said. “It is also about the love that I have for working with children, period.

“There is a great need for prevention work. You only need to see what is going on in the community with violence and our young people to see that.”

Laura Sikora and Truell Landy were the winners at the Substance Abuse, Professionals of the Year Awards held at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI). Ms Sikora won the Substance Abuse Counselor of the Year and Ms Landy won Prevention Professional of the Year (photo by Glenn Tucker)

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Published October 01, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 30, 2013 at 9:54 pm)

Prison counsellor, Pride Bermuda executive honoured

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