Recovery pods help inmates leave addiction behind

In Manatee County, where the opioid crisis has felt like a bomb dropped in the community, deputies and inmates are fighting back by changing lives.

Many of the county's opioid users turned into criminals. Instead of locking them away, the sheriff's office started a program to help them get out better than when they arrived.

The program focuses on faith, healing, and finding the person they were meant to be.

At the center of it, deputies, volunteers, pastors, and recovered addicts share their stories to help heal one another.

Three years ago, Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells knew something needed to be done as his county became the hotbed for heroin overdoses and deaths.

"I didn't have any extra money in the budget. I didn't know how we were going to make this work," he explained.

As overdoses hit a record number in 2016 with close to 1,300 100 deaths, the sheriff made his vision work.

"What you have gone through does not define who you are. Your past has been wiped clean," he told a recovery pod group. "We believe in all of you. I don't want you to come back, but we will not turn our backs on you. We want you to know that we know recovery is a long road and sometimes it takes a little bit."

More than 600 have graduated from the recovery pods since they started.

Graduate Cassey Collier said, "I came to Florida and I was hopeless. I didn't care if I lived or died."

Now she is a new person with a new outlook and a will to live.

"Every day is a struggle and as long as I do the next right thing and I wake up tomorrow I have a new start at life," she said.

Overdoses have turned around with a 70% decrease in the county. That's an average of about one and a half each day, but the sheriff says this battle never ends.

"I want [the program] to get bigger. I want to offer it to more people who are incarcerated so they can change their life," the sheriff said.

This year in Manatee County, there have been 388 overdoses as of this writing. Compared to July 2016, when there were more than 300 overdoses in just one month.