We Ran out of Couches

Janet A. Hopkins

John M. Shinholser’s life reads like a story from the back of the Big Book. After 32 years of recovery, John is a tempered combination of wisdom and enthusiasm, all wrapped up in the courtesies of a southern gentleman. Over the years, both his couch and his heart have accommodated drunks of all descriptions. Since early sobriety, John has been involved in twelve step work; and he’s never looked back.

Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, John was one of ten in a good Catholic family. Growing up, there was family chaos and drama. John’s addiction began at the early age of eleven, when he started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. While in middle school he discovered that if he had cigs, alcohol, pot, pills or LSD, he would be accepted by others. He had “found his people.”

Twice before finishing high school, John found himself in jail. After graduation, he became a good tradesman. He traveled the country for several years working commercial jobs and blowing his pay as quickly as he received it.

One Wednesday, John got drunk and joined the Marines; by Friday he was in boot camp. After two and a half years, the Marine Corp discovered that John was an addict. They gave him the choice of the brig and a bad conduct discharge or rehab. He’d been in jail twelve times by then, so he quickly chose treatment. On August 10, 1982, he walked into the base treatment center; he has remained clean and sober ever since.

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John admits his recovery life has not always been a piece of cake; it has been full of the normal ups and downs of life. Along the way, he became wealthy, married, divorced, went bankrupt, remarried, became well off again, had a beautiful child and developed a wonderful relationship with God . . . and the list goes on. But today, just as back then, he suits up, shows up and demonstrates recovery in action in all his affairs.

A painter by trade, John owned a successful painting company in Richmond, Virginia. With the addition of his tireless work with recovering drunks, he felt he had found his calling – that is, until he met Carol McDaid. Carol was a lobbyist on Capitol Hill; and she, too, had a heart for recovery work. It was a match made in, well, Twelve Step heaven.

They quickly realized they both shared a passion for helping down-and-out alcoholics and addicts. Though Carol notes, “There were plenty of betting folks who said John and I would never make it – period.”  But they did.

Carol had been used to guests arriving only when invited, so she would be ready for them with clean sheets and towels all laid out. That all changed when she and John married. Many times with no advance notice, someone seeking recovery would be sleeping on their couch or up in the guest room until they got their feet on the ground.  

Coincidentally around this same time, Carol began lobbying for the issue she and John cared deeply about – recovery. She became involved in the development of a new national organization called Faces and Voices of Recovery — an organization run by and for people in recovery. When she started leaving materials out about this new movement, she noticed John was reading every word – even though he really didn’t enjoy reading.

They were running out of couches, but John became increasingly convinced that it was his life’s work to continue helping people recover. He said, “We needed to do something for the people who didn’t have money.” At the same time, Carol was learning how great it was to be married to someone doing what he believed he was meant to do — someone who was following his dream.

In 2004, around a campfire at a weekend Twelve Step retreat, John and Carol discussed their thoughts and ideas. Carol was unsure whether her political work in Washington mixed well with the hand-to-hand-combat version of recovery she saw her husband doing in Richmond. Despite Carol’s trepidation, the following Monday John went straight to an attorney. Within weeks, the Henrico County, Virginia-based McShin Foundation was born, a non-profit organization dedicated to “Healing Families and Saving Lives.”

After the foundation’s first board meeting, Carol resigned. “I’d rather stay married than try and talk sense into John.” Despite that, from the beginning she’s been a staunch supporter of the foundation and her husband’s work.

The Foundation started in a 56-square-foot office rented from the Rubicon Treatment Center. They had no money, a telephone donated by a sponsee and, of course, a coffee pot. John was still painting to make ends meet. People began to come.

Within a short amount of time, the McShin Foundation moved to a church basement; first they had to clear it out and clean it up. In 2005, just one year later, John received the prestigious America Honors Recovery Award from the Johnson Institute – one of six individuals recognized. This award honors those who have been affected or afflicted by alcohol and other drug addictions and who have given back to their communities to ensure future generations may know the possibility and power of recovery. In 2013, the McShin program implemented in the Richmond City jail system was featured in the documentary, Anonymous People.

Today with an annual working budget of $850,000, the program has taken over the 15,000-square-foot west wing of the Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in the Lakeside neighborhood of Henrico, Virginia. They have over 2000 social support groups a year open to the public – about 800 are scheduled Twelve Step meetings – and respond to about 100,000 recovery support calls a year.

Using a social model recovery program, they implement Peer Recovery Support Services. They offer interventions and recovery support services at no charge, in addition to 55 treatment beds in Caroline and Henrico Counties. Over half the residents that have come through McShin are still in recovery. For some, clean dates have changed, but they’re still engaged in recovery.

David Rook, an intake specialist at the McShin Foundation and a recovered heroin addict who got clean with the McShin Foundation’s peer-to-peer model, said of the group’s support and accountability, “They offered an instant community of people. People do recover. It’s not all drunk driving and shootings. There’s another side of recovery, and we’re it.”

Their alternative correction referral program alone saved Caroline County over a million dollars in jail costs in the first three years of operation. It now saves the county in excess of a quarter million dollars a year. Because of the savings to the taxpayers, the county reimbursed them $30,000 last year and The Foundation anticipates a reimbursement of $60,000 this year. This program has an astounding 95 percent success rate.

All of this came from one man’s vision and desire to pass along the gift of recovery he had received – a story repeated across the nation about countless other visionaries in recovery.

John’s tireless work continues. He travels the country providing recovery coach training using a manual he co-wrote with the McShin Foundation’s executive director, J. Daniel Payne. In recent years he has shared the organization’s model with groups from Alaska all the way to the United Kingdom.

Carol McDaid explains their success this way, “Without reservation, we can say our progress must have the hand of God in the mix because, left to our own devices, we could never have progressed to where we are today.” In his own humble way, John adds, “There would be no McShin Foundation without the Foundation cofounder, my wife, Carol. She’s the Mc in McShin and is, by far, the best recovery coach I have ever known. (Yes, I love my recovery coach!) Simply put, there would be no McShin without her.”

You can find more information about the McShin Foundation at http://mcshinfoundation.org. The Recovery Coach Manual is available at no charge.

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