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Supporting those struggling with addiction

New Richmond will host a pair Church of Felons screenings on Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, in the high school auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Submitted photo

When Craig Yehlik took over as New Richmond Police Chief last year, the most pressing question in his mind, and that of the community, was how the police department was going to handle the drug problem in the City of New Richmond.

"And in taking a look at that, the first reaction from a law enforcement stance is more enforcement....In talking with parents with teens, talking with probation officers and members of the school staff, we found that there is a huge lack of education. So we embarked on this tour of educating: things that can be hiding in plain sight and what to look for as a parent, as a school teacher or as a guardian," Yehlik said.

Although the tour of education Yehlik and his department have gone on over the last year has been successful, Yehlik still felt like there was something missing.

"I started looking around for this third part of this process: what are we doing for people after their arrest? They go to jail, they get out the next day or a couple days later with a court appearance down the road and they go right back into the same exact environment they came out of," Yehlik said. "As we were kind of evaluating this, (Prairieview Covenant Church pastor) Joe Sir walks in the door and asks me if I've heard about the Church of Felons."

Church of Felons is a documentary that follows four multi-offense felons from Polk County on their search for a second chance and includes never-before-seen meth raids, exclusive interviews, emotional and powerful stories that pave the way for offering help to addicts searching for a way out. The live film screening event, which is sponsored by the New Richmond Ministerium and local businesses, will be shown two nights in a row on Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, in the New Richmond High School auditorium.

"It originated from a church in Osceola where these men were involved and sort of experienced this change in their lives. This movie sort of came out of that," Sir said. "The producer of this film just saw what was going on, how there was so much hope in what they experienced coming from such deplorable backgrounds and the decisions that they made....He was seeing how all of those bad decisions they made in the past had affected these men's families and how they were growing to see hope in their lives now with all the good decisions they have been making recently."

The live film screening will start at 6:30 p.m., with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with several of the men featured in the movie. There will also be booths for local organizations who will answer questions and concerns and give out information to those looking for it. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $5 online at churchoffelons.com/newrichmond or at Champs in New Richmond, or for $8 at the door.

"We have a problem, and it's just under the surface..." said Church of Felons director Jordan Mederich, "...many don't realize how extremely dangerous it's become. You're either actively addicted yourself, or you know someone who is. That's the truth across the board."

Similar events have been held at high schools in Osceola and Amery, with reviews and reactions being positive.

"After they put this documentary together, the whole thing started catching fire in the area and revealing a lot of the issues that are very parallel to what is going on in New Richmond and the rest of the area," Sir said. "That is why we are doing it here in New Richmond, so that if there is anyone out there in need they know that they have somewhere to come for support. The response to the documentary was so strong that people were starting to come forward who needed help."

The main purpose of the film and the screening, according to Sir, is to provide education about the subject matter and expose the issues that are going on so the community can't ignore them any longer. The screening in New Richmond will also raise funds to help someone who may need rehabilitation or to help with costs.

"I went through the movie and found a lot of good in it. There is a lot of talk about second chances and of working together as a community," Yehlik said. "This might not be the only way, but it is certainly a way and a resource for people in crisis and need. It is one more tool in the toolbox for the City of New Richmond to go to and turn to for help. It is something that they can't in a lot of other places. This is a program that is willing to help. The community as a whole benefits from that, there is no way it can't."

As a police officer, Yehlik has seen first hand the consequences of addiction and how it can affect a person and their family, as well their community. The feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, combined with addiction, make up the parts of the suicide triangle, a psychological model and theory.

"When you have those three things come together, that is when bad things happen since they don't what else to do. We really need to address some of these issues as a community and this film is a huge step in the right direction," said Yehlik. "An educated community is a safer community and I think this is a big step in a bunch of different directions as far as education goes, community support, letting people know that they have a second chance, that there is hope and that they know we haven't written them off."

One of the best parts about bringing this film event to New Richmond, in Sir's mind, is the opportunity to bring together churches, businesses, police and schools to talk about a subject that affects everyone in New Richmond.

"What is cool about this whole thing, with meeting with Craig and superintendent Patrick Olson, is seeing the like mindedness and the similar concerns that we share. Everybody is on the same page and wants to accomplish the same thing. The support has been phenomenal," Sir said. "As a community, we can't bury our heads in the sand to it. It is easy to just not be aware when it is right here, but now there are things we can do. I think that we can start to deal with this thing at a daily, life level if we all work together on it. My hope is that we are going to come together as a community of churches and organizations and be able to learn how we can support this for the long haul because that is what people need."

For more information on the film, the New Richmond screenings, or to buy tickets, visit churchoffelons.com/newrichmond.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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