Choosing Integrity helps Pike inmates rebuild their lives, in and out of jail

Milford. Two former inmates, Tracy Pirl and Christina Uhelsky, said the worst part of their recovery was overcoming the stigma of addiction.

22 Oct 2020 | 11:08

“Everybody knew of the monster I was and what I did,” said Tracy Pirl. “I chewed everybody up and spit them out.”

Christina Uhelsky spent six months in jail for endangering the welfare of a child — her own children — when she overdosed in a car. Her son helped her.

Pirl and Uhelsky said the one thing they have now, following their incarcerations at Pike County Correctional Facility, is confidence. They said Choosing Integrity, not-for-profit corporation that supports men and women who are in custody or recently released from the Pike jail, and its executive director, Luke Barbalich, bolstered their sobriety and helped reverse the poor decision making that comes from addiction.

“You can do it if you want to,” said Uhelsky of recovery. “The resources, like Choosing Integrity, are there for you.”

Choosing Integrity guides emerging inmates to helpful resources. Barbalich initiated Uhelsky’s move to see a therapist and her son’s screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Both women are spiritual. Pirl said she can tell the difference when she misses her daily devotions. Pril and Uhelsky both said the most difficult part of recovery is the stigma attached to recovering addicts.

Christina Uhelsky, the mother of two, hopes to leave Pike County and return to New York. She has a degree in business management and medical billing and coding. She has also thought about becoming a registered nurse. She said she wants to give back. She currently opens Dunkin Donuts every day.

Pirl married someone she dated 14 years ago. He threw her out because of her addiction. Then, she said, “I got sober, and on Nov. 21, we’ll celebrate our first anniversary.”

Pirl has three children, and now works now at Milford Diner. Barbalich said Pirl would make a great certified recovery specialist because of where she’s been and where she is now. People in recovery would find her relatable, he said.

Barbalich said Choosing Integrity co-chairs the Pike County Reentry Coalition, which recently began collaborating with Workforce Development to help people in the criminal justice system, ages 18 to 25, achieve gainful employment. The coalition offers case management support to returning citizens, a women’s issues group, mentoring, life-coaching, counseling, and character building education.

“We maintain strong integration with health and human service support in and around the county to improve the well-being and resilience of justice-involved individuals,” Barbalich said. “We provide virtual education programming to groups at the Pike County Correctional Facility. Our education is concentrated on character building, integrity, forgiveness, money management and employment skills, and evidence-based recovery principles. We advocate for justice-involved individuals to be recognized and acknowledged for their efforts to improve their lives.”

Choosing Integrity relies on foundation grants and individual donations. To donate, visit choosingintegrity.org. Checks may be mailed to Choosing Integrity PO Box 603, Greentown, PA 18426.

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The board of directors of Choosing Integrity:
Luke Barbalich, executive director
Gean Bechthold, director and chair
Hampton Morgan Jr.
Jack T. Donson
Martha Dubensky
Heather Fiedler
Eric Hammerschmidt
“Everybody knew of the monster I was and what I did. I chewed everybody up and spit them out.” —Tracy Pirl