Out of the woods - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Out of the woods

Anne Ryder/Eyewitness News

Bloomington, Nov. 19 - Deep in the woods five miles north of Bloomington, a dozen men, their lives in shambles, are trying to walk out of the darkness of addiction.

At 5:00 a.m., an hour they used to be drugged or drunk, they gather for prayer and a morning meal. There's hearty food on the table and a heavenly setting on 285 acres of woods next to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

There's James P. Benedict, 30, a career criminal from Oklahoma, with an FBI record three pages long and 35 felonies to his name. He used, dealt and made crystal methamphetamine, killing two people when his lab blew up. Cornell Wilson, 41, was a salesman, a father of two and a crack addict when his wife kicked him out of their Northside Indianapolis home with the ultimatum: Get help or don't come back.

Rick L. Turner, 48, was a quality control manager at an aerospace firm in Florida when an injury helped him get hooked on prescription narcotics. When Turner got caught, he was downing 130 Percocet at a time and robbing pharmacies from Florida to Carmel to support his habit.

The program that drew them together is called Hebron ? the biblical term for "City of Refuge." The Christian-based program located at Camp Hunt is funded by the Wheeler Mission. Known for its outreach to the homeless, Wheeler started Hebron in September 2000, basing it on similar recovery programs in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

Hebron has beds for 12 men who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography or gambling. The men commit one year of their lives, living in a bunkhouse built by addicts who went before them. They leave their wives and children, seeing them only on the weekends when families come to camp for chapel and to take part in comprehensive programs offered to help them.

Hebron bills itself as a "spiritual boot camp," where the hard daily work of digging trenches, hauling logs and making wood products is often easier than the spiritual transformation required of the men.

Those who can't pay the $4,000 fee for their room and board promise to pay it in installments after they graduate. Hebron has a $220,000 annual budget, funded from private donors and foundations.

All the leaders, like Alan P. Bobbett, who runs the program and lives on-site with his wife and five children, are former addicts.

"Men who come to us are dead men walking," said Bobbett, 39. "Addiction has sucked the very life out of them and their families."

There's a strict regimen. The men get up early, do housework and chores, attend classes, do hard physical labor and engage in intensive spiritual study. They evaluate themselves and each other.

Hebron doesn't offer the addict sympathy; there's nothing warm and fuzzy about the program. Rick Aanonsen, a graduate of Dunklin, a similar program in Florida, often leads the classes with a stern, boot-camp style of delivery:

"Are you going to be the one I read about in the obituary?" he barks. "Are you going to be the one sitting in a 6- by 9-foot cell? Are you going to be the one strung out, who died in his own vomit, alcohol-poisoned, strung out on booze, strung out on crack cocaine, eating out of dumpsters two years from now? We've got thousands upon thousands of addicts killing themselves, killing each other, and God has seen fit to pluck you up out of the muck and mire. Did you know that? God has a plan and purpose for your life."

Though there are some convicted criminals at Hebron who face hard time if they leave, there are no barbed wire fences, no locked gates. Many of the men who quit Hebron steal away in the middle of the night. Of the 107 who've signed up in the last three years, just 10 have graduated.

Bobbett tries to keep track of the men who didn't make it. He says not one has stayed clean. The 10 who've completed the program are all still sober, he says.

Rick Turner, the white-collar drug addict who kicked narcotic painkillers, never expected to make it through Hebron. "They told me the day I arrived that I was a leech and that I make people bleed," Turner said. "Then they looked me in the eyes and told me they loved me. My life was a mess. I knew I didn't want to go back to prison. I honestly thought I'd leave here in a box."

Turner graduated on a frosty day in February 2002. The leaders cut a hole in the eight-inch-thick ice of the lake and baptized Turner, dunking his entire body in the frigid water.

"That old man, the man that I was, just needs to die," Turner told the crowd assembled on the shore. "He can just stay sealed here in the ice, because I don't need him anymore."

Turner has now renewed his vows with Tracie, his wife of 15 years, and has moved from a 6 by 9 foot cell to a 16 by 86 foot home located on the Hebron property. He works there full time, serving as a mentor to the men who are following him. The men built Turner's wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, a wheelchair ramp to the couple's home. Turner says it is now time to give back to his wife the years he took away from her with his addiction. And time to give back to Hebron, which he says saved his marriage and life.

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