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West Virginia Sober Living specialist to help navigate alternative sentencing options

The criminal justice system can be difficult to navigate.  Even when help may be available, it can be difficult to find and can take months to see results.  When coupled with finding help for substance abuse disorders, finding help might feel impossible to some. 

A new service through West Virginia Sober Living (WVSL) will aid incarcerated people in Monongalia and Kanawha counties dealing with substance abuse disorders navigate the system and help them find treatment or alternative sentencing options.

In a recent press release, WVSL announced that with funding awarded through the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program and the U.S. Department of Justice, the organization has hired Mark Beddow as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist, to “assist in supporting the unique needs of individuals involved in the judicial system in transitioning from incarceration back into society.”

Beddow said his focus is to help those facing incarceration or who are incarcerated to find treatment, wellness and sober living options.

“I work hand-in-hand with county probation, parole, day report and the justice system in this area as well as Kanawha County,” Beddow said.  “I try to focus all of my energies on coordinating with the courts as a type of criminal justice liaison to see if we can’t facilitate these individuals’ release from incarceration into a treatment facility as an alternative sentencing.” 

Beddow, who took the position just over a month ago, said he has already helped 14 clients. 

“I have had numerous in treatment and in sober living, as well as about seven or eight of them are set for a tentative release date and just waiting on the courts to catch up with the paperwork,” he said.  “The others, I’ve been working hand-in-hand with their attorneys and their prosecuting attorneys offices in the counties that they are facing criminal charges in.”

Jon Dower, executive director of WVSL, said court systems across West Virginia are beginning to more widely view substance use disorder as a disease that requires comprehensive treatment. 

According to WVSL, The Vera Institute of Justice uses CDC data on justice-involved populations and reports a 59% increase in overdoses from 2000 to 2015 in West Virginia.

“The statistics place a burden on families and defense attorneys to concurrently navigate the complex system of criminal justice and behavioral health treatment,” Dower said.

Those statistics are what WVSL wants to address with the initiative.  “Supporting a vulnerable population in their most vulnerable times,” Dower said.  “Families in West Virginia are often at a loss in helping their loved ones who are incarcerated, and the citizens of West Virginia are picking up the tab for individuals who would be better served by treatment and community-based resources.”

Beddow says he feels like his new position is his calling, not just his job.

“I’m also an addict in recovery, in long-term recovery, and I too came from a place in my life where I was in the criminal justice system and involved in it on the other side of the fence,” he said.  “Being able to help individuals find the care they need or assisting a mother that is desperately trying to help her child gives all of my struggles with the criminal justice system purpose.”

Beddow said when he found recovery while incarcerated there were no options for help or assistance, so he had to do a lot of the groundwork himself by reaching out to different places and filling out the applications. 

“The amount of work that I had to do took me months and months and months,” he said. “Where as today we are trying to curb that, you know, by getting people hopefully accepted and a tentative release date set within about 30 days of when we make initial contact.”

Dan McCawley, WVSL’s director of operations, said he believes that because of the COSSAP funding and Beddow’s new position, many individuals will have favorable outcomes. 

“Our goal as an organization is to recognize the needs of our community and make strides in meeting those needs,” McCawley said.  “Having Mark [Beddow] working with lawyers, parents, and counselors within correctional facilities is a blessing to many individuals and will assist in mitigating costs to our community. The faster we can provide individuals the support they need, whether it be stable housing or comprehensive treatment, the better the chance of reducing recidivism and having recovering members of society who contribute to our communities.”

Families in Monongalia and Kanawha counties seeking treatment access or transitional planning are encouraged to reach out to Beddow at 304-602-3306.  His office is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., located at 5 Riddle Court, Suite 3, in Morgantown. 

For more information on West Virginia Sober Living, visit or follow them on Facebook.

“I’m truly blessed today to have this opportunity to do what I am doing, and grateful as well,” Beddow said.  “I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be working hand-in-hand with the criminal justice system, to be helping other individuals, but it was just one of the gifts that recovery has given me.  And now West Virginia Sober Living has given me the opportunity.  And I am grateful and thankful every day for it.”

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