KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Addiction to opioids is a major link to crime here and around the country.
In Knox County, there is a big push to not just let inmates sit in a cell, but provide programs to help them change their lives. WATE 6 On Your Side was granted behind-the-scenes access to one of those intensive sessions.
Growing up, inmate Gary Hampton had everything going for him. He was a star basketball player on the varsity team at Fort Loudoun Middle School.
So talented, he was recruited to take part in pro player and coach Billy Donovan’s basketball camp in Orlando.
Despite the discipline required for his sport, Hampton found himself making the wrong choices.
“I started out smoking week after basketball games,” Hampton said. “I’m an all-state MVP, you know, parties after games.”
“Got to be about age 19, started doing oxycontin.”
His drug use escalated, and he was in and out of jail.
He had a son, now 12, with former girlfriend Kayla Viars, who was shot in the back and killed on New Year’s Day 2018.
“It’s a big thing my kid’s mother getting shot and killed over drugs,” Hampton said, shaking his head.
Viars’ death sent him spiraling into depression back into drugs and back behind bars for violating probation on a drug conviction.
Hampton is now part of the Intensive Treatment Program at the Knox County Detention Facility, where inmates are encouraged to dig deep to find the triggers for the behaviors that got them locked up.
Two groups of 15 inmates meet five days a week. The sessions often last 3 hours. Sometimes they are court ordered, but, in Hampton’s case, he volunteered to join knowing he needed to change.
“I almost died. My heart, liver, kidneys shut down. I started at a young age. Held a lot in; a lot of resentment. You gotta talk to people. You gotta get you a counselor. Whatever’s bothering you, you gotta get it out,” Hampton said.
There’s a lot to process, and counselor Brandon Hindman says he has seen startling transformations.
“People are brought here for drug crimes or other crimes but they’re just indicators that somebody’s life has become unmanageable,” Hindman said. “Just know that people can change. They do have value and a lot of them have unfortunate circumstances that they’ve grown up in that have led to this life.”
Hampton’s goal is to stay clean, stay out of jail, and be there for his son.
“I don’t want my son doing drugs because of me. I don’t want him to have nobody to talk to. I know the signs now. I’ve been through it,” he said.
He’s not sure when he’s getting out of jail. Hampton hopes to find steady work allowing him to provide for his son.