REAL LIFE group on their way to a town hall meeting on opioids.
Photo courtesy of REAL LIFE.
“Support those on the margins of our society.”
Dr. Sarah Scarbrough is the founder of REAL LIFE, an organization that prioritizes the needs and challenges of men and women who want to make a productive life for themselves after incarceration, homelessness, or substance use. “We help people reach their full potential by helping them overcome barriers so they can reach a thriving life,” she says.
The origins of REAL LIFE began in Richmond, Virginia, at the Richmond City Jail. Dr. Scarbrough was the program director in the Richmond City Jail from 2013-2017. She led the REAL (Recovery from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles) Program that prepared participants for success outside of the jail gates. Dr. Scarbrough and her staff noticed how newly released citizens would call for continuous support. She decided to create REAL LIFE to support those who are prone to falling into addiction, homelessness, or other social and behavioral issues.
Dr. Sarah Scarbrough, founder of REAL LIFe. Photo by Kelly Ford.
The great work of REAL LIFE has not gone unnoticed. Grammy-winning artist, Todd “Speech” Thomas, a member of the hip hop group Arrested Development, wanted to bring more awareness to the flaws of our criminal justice system. In a recording studio within the jail, Speech worked with four men on an album. The experience is documented in the full-length music documentary 16 Bars. “We are working on a ‘prison tour’ for 16 Bars, that will allow offenders in our country an opportunity to watch the documentary,” she says. Dr. Scarbrough and the filmmakers have tested the screening in a few Virginia prisons and have used these opportunities to discuss what is needed to prepare for re-entry. “It was very effective in preparing for re-entry and showing the harsh reality of obstacles faced upon release,” Dr. Scarbrough says.
Inmates from the WAITT Program at VA Peninsula Regional Jail, where REAL LIFE administers programming. Photo by Sara Mahayni.
Due to COVID-19, the expansion of REAL LIFE to the East End of Richmond has been delayed. Coined “REAL LIFE East,” the program will help those dealing with homelessness, substance abuse, and other social issues in an area that has unfortunately been a hotbed for crime.
In the near future, REAL LIFE will open an additional female recovery transitional house. The program currently operates one female and two male houses. “Today, we only house about 10% of the overall Lifers (clients) that we work with,” she explains. “But the need for structured, sober, and transitional housing is critical to our Lifers’ success and we would like to be in the position to be able to provide housing to a few more.” With REAL LIFE, those on the margins have a realistic opportunity to live a fulfilling life. Everyone deserves a second chance.