All year long, Sheriff A.J. Smith championed a policy that citizens who used drugs had a choice to make, between incarceration or rehabilitation.
He beefed up outreach programs at the jail, including art classes, yoga, and anger management, and connected with outside programs where inmates could commit to a year-long stay, where they could get back on track, and learn to lead clean and sober lives.
Over time, he decided to press for an even more ambitious goal, to transform the vacant state work camp west of Apalachicola into the Bay City Wellness Center.
The cost would be high, about $2.5 million, based on a cost estimate for bringing the site up to par from architect Doug Shuler, of Barnett Fronczak Barlowe & Shuler of Tallahassee.
County commissioners liked the idea, and were supportive, but made clear that there was no money in the budget to fund the effort.
“If I can’t get the money through state appropriation, through Triumph and through DOJ (Department of Justice) money, it’s probably not going to happen,” Smith said, noting that he believes neighboring counties will come on board as well.
“Liberty, Calhoun, Gulf they have no beds for anybody. Tallahassee and Bay County have places for people to go. We have to send them out of town if we can even find a bed for them,” he said.
The vision is to use the five fenced-in acres of the 40-acre site that was used by the Bay City Work Camp, up until July 2013 when the state announced its closure.
While the funding remains up in the air, on the state and federal level, the private sector has been busy inaugurating the new Hope Park in Eastpoint, which grew up on Bear Creek Road in the aftermath of the Lime Rock fire.
A group of dedicated churches and individuals obtained the land, and in 2019 began a gradual series of programs that steadily increased, and are intended to beat back the drug problem that has afflicted the Eastpoint neighborhood where the pretty park, with a pond, playground and soon-to-be basketball court, is located.