by Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter, Reveal
The worst day of Brad McGahey’s life was the day a judge decided to spare him from prison.
McGahey was 23 with dreams of making it big in rodeo, maybe starring in his own reality TV show. With a 1.5 GPA, he’d barely graduated from high school. He had two kids and mounting child support debt. Then he got busted for buying a stolen horse trailer, fell behind on court fines and blew off his probation officer.
Standing in a tiny wood-paneled courtroom in rural Oklahoma in 2010, he faced one year in state prison. The judge had another plan.
“You need to learn a work ethic,” the judge told him. “I’m sending you to CAAIR.”
McGahey had heard of Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery. People called it “the Chicken Farm,” a rural retreat where defendants stayed for a year, got addiction treatment and learned to live more productive lives. Most were sent there by courts from across Oklahoma and neighboring states, part of the nationwide push to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.
Aside from daily cans of Dr Pepper, McGahey wasn’t addicted to anything ...