In the spring of 2016, Bennie Blackwell was looking for a different path. He had been released from prison after serving 30 months. This was not his first time being incarcerated; however, he was ready for something to be different. Bennie stated, “I want to be a productive member of society.” To help support this goal, it was essential for Bennie to find a stable place to live as he had been “couch surfing.” He was connected to the Returning Home Ohio (RHO) program, a permanent supportive housing initiative working with individuals released from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
For the first time in many years, Bennie was recognizing the need to address his mental health and substance use concerns. As a former Marine, he was receiving mental health services through the VA. He was attending AA and NA meetings as well as going to church. As part of the RHO program, Bennie was introduced to Dawn Rohrig, RHO Coordinator with Community Support Services. Ms. Rohrig helped Bennie secure a place to live. Bennie stated, “She understood. She was concerned about me.” With Ms. Rohrig’s assistance, Bennie was able to find a 3-bedroom home. When he first moved in to the home, it was in need of some upkeep. The landlord, Tom Semelsberger, agreed for Bennie to fix up the home. Since then, Mr. Semelsberger has hired him to help with other properties.
Bennie shared, since leaving the Marines, he has struggled with depression and anxiety. He offered, “I used to feel sad and lonely.” At times, he still feels overwhelmed with racing thoughts. He reports he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2007 stemming from his military service in Lebanon as well as time he spent incarcerated. He reports he saw fellow Marines being killed as well as witnessed significant violence in prison. In addition to the support offered by the VA and Community Support Services, Bennie was able to obtain an emotional support dog. Ms. Rohrig offered, “I have seen such a difference in Bennie since he was able to have his dog, Maximus.”
Ms. Rohrig describes Bennie as someone who is motivated with contagious enthusiasm. She offered, “Bennie was ready for a change.” As a next step in his journey, he will be exploring employment opportunities as he wants to be “productive.” Bennie is grateful for the support he receives from the VA as well as the RHO program. He also appreciates the confidence Judge Alison McCarty has in him.
For Bennie, the RHO program has provided not only a place to live and a connection to treatment, but it has instilled hope for a better tomorrow.