Leader helps connect Kansas sober-living house to community
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Members of the sober-living Oxford House team circled up in the infield of a Fun Valley Sports Complex baseball diamond reciting the Lord’s Prayer, as custom at group gatherings.
They prepared to face the Reno County Sheriff’s Office in a friendly game against officers who once arrested some of them. The July 2018 matchup — midway through a record-breaking year for opioid deaths, per Sheriff Randy Henderson’s account — showed the fruition of relationship-building over the years. Until then, only leaders within the burgeoning Oxford House community knew about the relationship between law enforcement and recovering addicts.
As they held hands praying, deputies and sheriff’s office personnel filled in between the orange T-shirts with their blue T-shirts marked “Enforcers” on the front. They all held hands.
“Just a couple nights ago, I went through the drive-thru at Hog Wild (Pit BBQ), and the guy said: ‘Hey, we gonna play another softball game this year?‘” Henderson said. “I said ‘Yeah, we gotta give you a chance to win back the bragging rights.’”
Matt Griffin brought Oxford House back to Hutchinson in 2014 after residents ran the sober-living home out of town in the early 2000s. Hutchinson now has nine.
Griffin said the softball game idea floated around for a while, but Seth Dewey ran with the ball.
“We are not the only ones who have a stigma,” Griffin said about people’s perception of law enforcement. “That softball game really, really broke the ice for a lot of people in the Oxford House that aren’t that involved and are just there to get the help ... I would say it was absolutely instrumental in a lot of people’s lives.”
Griffin is still heavily involved, but Dewey has become the face — albeit the heavily bearded face — of Oxford House at the local level and for the state of Kansas.
Since entering a house on July 25, 2017 — two days after sobering up in a park — the relationship Griffin has with Dewey went from mentor to fueling Dewey’s fire.
“Seth may not know it, but I am getting paid back big time (spiritually) from him,” Griffin said. “He’s definitely his own force in this recovery effort right now ... He’s a born leader.”
Dewey grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska, as the youngest of three children in a family of staunch Jehovah’s Witnesses.
With a father as an elder, Dewey spent a lot of his free time as a youth in church functions. He frequently did outreach with a friend and his father and spent time at their house.
He said the man would let them drink and took advantage of their hazy state of mind. Dewey figured he was 8 or 9 at the time.
Dewey rebelled against the church and turned to drugs for coping.
“I loved how it helped me with the issues I was having,” he said.
He ended up in prison for a year on a burglary charge between 2002 and 2003. Dewey said his parents worked at restoring their relationship during his incarceration. At his release, Dewey reconnected with family and the church.
The man who caused Dewey the trauma was still involved with the church. Dewey said the man, who has since died from cancer, admitted to molesting hundreds of boys over the years in the community of about 50,000 people. When the church refused to take action, Dewey decided to cut ties with the church.
“At that point, I could no longer rationalize what happened,” Dewey said.
He wrote a letter of disassociation to the church. The church and even his family excommunicated him.
“I told him I gave him props that he confessed,” Dewey said. “It’s not like I forgave him.”
Dewey said he married the daughter of the detective who investigated the case leading to his prison sentence. The two moved to Hutchinson.
In 2015, their marriage started to crumble, and Dewey turned back to drugs.
Dewey was caught in Reno County in July 2016 for driving under the influence and/or alcohol. It took a few more charges and bouncing in and out of the Reno County Correctional Facility before Dewey had enough.
He heard about Oxford House during his last stint in jail.
He got out on July 21, 2017, and decided to shoot up methamphetamine one last time.
“An arm full of dope and head full of recovery do not mix,” Dewey said. “It was the worst high I ever had.”
He slept in a park, waiting to sober up. On July 23, he went to the door of the Oxford House on Main Street.
“That was the day the fog lifted, and I went and knocked on the Oxford House,” Dewey said.
Dewey quickly moved into leadership within Oxford House. He’s gone from house president to chapter chair and now sits as Kansas state chair, fielding calls at odd hours of the day from presidents and chapters chairs overseeing 121 homes.
Dewey, 36, told the Hutchinson News that Kansas had 75 in 2015.
Dewey said his mother reached out to him earlier this year after the birth of his son. He said it’d been the only contact he has had with his family, even though he has a sister who lives in Hutchinson.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Dewey said. “But it’s also why I am so passionate about unity in the recovery community ... When I say that’s all I got; that’s all I got.”
The Hutchinson Police Department named one of its officers a liaison to Oxford House earlier this year.
“When we see someone in our community that is struggling with addiction, instead of looking at them like a criminal ... we need to look at them like how can we get them some help,” Hutchinson police chief Jeff Hooper said. “There is a lot of individuals who don’t belong in the criminal justice system.”
Hooper said he sees the department as the front end of the war on drugs, while the sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail, helps to rehabilitate people on the back end with programs, services and connecting inmates with resources on their release.
It’s not uncommon to see Dewey handing out brochures about Oxford House to Third Thursday goers. The burly man does it with a big smile and always ends the conversation with gratitude.
He often wears Oxford House gear and a Boston Red Sox hat after falling in love with the camaraderie of the team and city when he lived there for a few months.
After a string of opioid deaths last year, Dewey and Griffin revived the county drug task force last year with the aim of bringing a detox facility to Hutchinson.
While those monthly talks continue, Dewey helped organize an overdose march with other Oxford House members and the sheriff’s office in November 2018 that drew hundreds of people.
Last month, Dewey went with Reno County Communities That Care to Washington, D.C., for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America symposium.
Then, came the latest venture — the Oxcars.
On March 23, Oxford House invited community members to Memorial Hall. Hundreds attended the event and prom that followed.
“Many of us in active addiction and drinking days missed out on the simple things people took for granted,” Dewey said about the prom.
The Oxcars was added this year as a way to recognize organizations and community members who have supported Oxford House since its Hutchinson rebirth in 2014. Henderson, Michael Hill Jr. and Capt. Shawn McClay were all awarded for their work in the jail and alongside Oxford House.
“To me, the Oxford House is the best-kept secret,” Henderson said.
The 26 awards thanked the groups and people for their “selfless movement to the Oxford House Movement in Hutchinson, Kansas.”
Griffin came up with the idea and put the event together mainly with the help of Hallie Thompson and Dewey.
Dewey works at Good Vibrations and tries to improve his life through reading. He never went to college, since it was frowned upon by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I already stacked enough cards against myself. I don’t have a college education. I don’t have family,” Dewey said. “If I want to make a difference in this world, and I do, I have to put in way more work than the average Joe.”
He highly recommends “The Motivation Manifesto” by Brendon Burchard and anything John Maxwell. Dewey has read Maxwell’s book on effective leadership and going through daily reads, often with infant Kolton on his lap, of “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow.”
Instead of dwelling on the past or being on community corrections, Dewey said he wakes up each day being thankful for something.
The attitude rubs off on others.
“It’s always the same way, “Henderson said, “he comes up, gives you a hug and tell you he loves you.”
Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com