HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Members of the sober-living Oxford House team circled up in the infield of a Fun Valley Sports Complex baseball diamond reciting the Lord's Prayer, as custom at group gatherings.
They prepared to face the Reno County Sheriff's Office in a friendly game against officers who once arrested some of them. The July 2018 matchup — midway through a record-breaking year for opioid deaths, per Sheriff Randy Henderson's account — showed the fruition of relationship-building over the years. Until then, only leaders within the burgeoning Oxford House community knew about the relationship between law enforcement and recovering addicts.
As they held hands praying, deputies and sheriff's office personnel filled in between the orange T-shirts with their blue T-shirts marked "Enforcers" on the front. They all held hands.
"Just a couple nights ago, I went through the drive-thru at Hog Wild (Pit BBQ), and the guy said: 'Hey, we gonna play another softball game this year?'" Henderson said. "I said 'Yeah, we gotta give you a chance to win back the bragging rights.'"
Matt Griffin brought Oxford House back to Hutchinson in 2014 after residents ran the sober-living home out of town in the early 2000s. Hutchinson now has nine.
Griffin said the softball game idea floated around for a while, but Seth Dewey ran with the ball.
"We are not the only ones who have a stigma," Griffin said about people's perception of law enforcement. "That softball game really, really broke the ice for a lot of people in the Oxford House that aren't that involved and are just there to get the help ... I would say it was absolutely instrumental in a lot of people's lives."
Griffin is still heavily involved, but Dewey has become the face — albeit the heavily bearded face — of Oxford House at the local level and for the state of Kansas.
Since entering a house on July 25, 2017 — two days after sobering up in a park — the relationship Griffin has with Dewey went from mentor to fueling Dewey's fire.
"Seth may not know it, but I am getting paid back big time (spiritually) from him," Griffin said. "He's definitely his own force in this recovery effort right now ... He's a born leader."
Dewey grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska, as the youngest of three children in a family of staunch Jehovah's Witnesses.
With a father as an elder, Dewey spent a lot of his free time as a youth in church functions. He frequently did outreach with a friend and his father and spent time at their house.
He said the man would let them drink and took advantage of their hazy state of mind. Dewey figured he was 8 or 9 at the time.
Dewey rebelled against the church and turned to drugs for coping.
"I loved how it helped me with the issues I was having," he said.
He ended up in prison for a year on a burglary charge between 2002 and 2003. Dewey said his parents worked at restoring their relationship during his incarceration. At his release, Dewey reconnected with family and the church.
The man who caused Dewey the trauma was still involved with the church. Dewey said the man, who has since died from cancer, admitted to molesting hundreds of boys over the years in the community of about 50,000 people. When the church refused to take action, Dewey decided to cut ties with the church.
"At that point, I could no longer rationalize what happened," Dewey said.
He wrote a letter of disassociation to the church. The church and even his family excommunicated him.
"I told him I gave him props that he confessed," Dewey said. "It's not like I forgave him."
Dewey said he married the daughter of the detective who investigated the case leading to his prison sentence. The two moved to Hutchinson.
In 2015, their marriage started to crumble, and Dewey turned back to drugs.
Dewey was caught in Reno County in July 2016 for driving under the influence and/or alcohol. It took a few more charges and bouncing in and out of the Reno County Correctional Facility before Dewey had enough.
He heard about Oxford House during his last stint in jail.
He got out on July 21, 2017, and decided to shoot up methamphetamine one last time.
"An arm full of dope and head full of recovery do not mix," Dewey said. "It was the worst high I ever had."
He slept in a park, waiting to sober up. On July 23, he went to the door of the Oxford House on Main Street.
"That was the day the fog lifted, and I went and knocked on the Oxford House," Dewey said.
Dewey quickly moved into leadership within Oxford House. He's gone from house president to chapter chair and now sits as Kansas state chair, fielding calls at odd hours of the day from presidents and chapters chairs overseeing 121 homes.
Dewey, 36, told the Hutchinson News that Kansas had 75 in 2015.
Dewey said his mother reached out to him earlier this year after the birth of his son. He said it'd been the only contact he has had with his family, even though he has a sister who lives in Hutchinson.
"It's a hard pill to swallow," Dewey said. "But it's also why I am so passionate about unity in the recovery community ... When I say that's all I got; that's all I got."
The Hutchinson Police Department named one of its officers a liaison to Oxford House earlier this year.