RDAP Study Guide

Dive into the heart of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) guided by the Bureau of Prisons. This is not just any program; it’s a life-changer for inmates struggling with addiction. Picture this: nine months of intense, brain-reworking sessions in a cozy Bureau of Prisons home. It’s all about turning over a new leaf through cognitive-behavioral therapy. RDAP doesn’t just scratch the surface; it dives deep to flip inmates’ views and habits on substance use on their heads, all within a supportive community. Whether you’re peeking in for knowledge or searching for hope, RDAP lays out the path from shadows to light. Stick around to uncover how this powerful program plants seeds of change.

To construct the RDAP study guide below, contributors compiled their notes from when they participated in the RDAP programs at USP Lewisburg and FPC Phoenix and included some additional notes from Scotty Carper’s “Comprehensive Guide to RDAP.” This study guide is based on the therapeutic bookwork done throughout the program. For more on the RDAP concept, admission, and daily life within the RDAP building, view our guide “What is the Residential Drug Abuse Program?”

This guide is presented for informational purposes only, intended for individuals who are considering participation in RDAP while they are incarcerated. Our hope is this information will help you make a better-informed decision on whether to participate in the intensive program.

The program is divided into three, equal, three-month phases. Below, we offer a study guide for each phase of the program including core concepts and definitions.

RDAP Phase 1: Orientation

RDAP Orientation Journal Books

  • Community. This workbook introduces the concept of a therapeutic community and the practices of the program.
  • Opportunity to Change. This workbook digs deeper into the RDAP program, introducing participants to the 8 Positive Attitudes and how to complete an Attitude Check. This is when people begin to be pushed on open-mindedness and willingness to change.
  • The ABCs of Rational Thinking. In this workbook, participants are exposed to the connection between perceptions, thoughts, and behavior or the ABCs of Rational Thinking. It introduces the 8 Common Thinking Errors and provides strategies for managing reactions and extreme emotions.

8 Positive Attitudes for Change

Success in the program begins with the right mindset to embrace change which the program calls the 8 Attitudes for Change or 8 Positive Attitudes. No one who enters the program shows up completely ready to embrace all eight, and it’s typical for people to struggle with each one at one point or another throughout the program. The 8 Positive Attitudes are as follows:

  • Caring. Are you supporting the people around you?
  • Responsibility. Are you taking ownership and able to focus on your own role in the circumstances rather than looking for someone to blame?
  • Open-Mindedness. Are you willing to accept feedback about your behavior, and open to the idea that you (likely) have to change the way you approach life and those around you?
  • Willingness. Are you waking up every day and putting in the work necessary for recovery?
  • Honesty. Are you being honest with the people around you – and more importantly, with yourself?
  • Humility. Do you accept and understand that your community and the people around you matter, too?
  • Objectivity. Are you avoiding bias, and looking at things through a clear lens?
  • Gratitude. Do you understand this opportunity to change is a beautiful thing, and do you express gratitude for that opportunity? Are you able to express gratitude to your friends, family, and support system?

Attitude Check

An attitude check is a one-page form where the participant is asked to consider the 8 Positive Attitudes and reflect on a time when they did or did not practice one of the attitudes.

The form includes a date, asks the participant to identify the attitude, and describe the event(s) that took place. The participant is then asked to rate how effectively they demonstrated the attitude, gather feedback from a peer about how they see the situation, and then write how they plan to improve or continue progress in practicing this attitude.

The ABCs of Rational Thinking

An important point in treatment is exploring when and how irrational thinking creeps into each of our daily lives, how to identify those moments, and what to do when we recognize irrational thinking in our own behavior. This section helps provide the tools to become a rational thinker – or as many in the program say, how to “slow down your thinking.”

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This begins with a process called “the ABCs of Rational Thinking:”

  • Activating event. Identifying and isolating the event that triggered an emotional reaction. This can often be something that someone says or does.
  • Beliefs. How did you interpret the event? If somebody made a sarcastic remark, how did you interpret those words?
  • Consequences. What happened as a result of your beliefs? What were the feelings you experienced, the actions you took, and the outcome of those actions? If a person made you feel attacked, did it upset you and cause you to lash out or respond in a way you wish you hadn’t?

The purpose of the exercise is to cause you to be objective about the things that cause you to react poorly. Generally, most people find that if they slow down in the Beliefs stage, they can become a more rational thinker which leads to better results.

8 Common Thinking Errors

ny RDAP graduates feel they benefitted most from identifying the common thinking errors. These are behaviors many of us engage in every day, often because we’ve been conditioned to do so. By identifying them, we can evaluate how they impact the choices we make every day. The 8 common thinking errors are as follows:

  • Blaming. When confronted with something that happened, do you point to circumstances or to other people and blame them? This is about taking ownership.
  • Absolutes. Do you use language that prevents you from being objective, like declaring something is “the best” and refusing to entertain any other perspective or opinion? This is closely tied to open-mindedness.
  • Demands. Do you present your “wants” as “needs” and insist they be a certain way? This type of thinking is a direct path to increased agitation and negative consequences. This is closely tied to humility and the criminal thinking error of power orientation.
  • Loaded Words. Do you leverage word choice to make things more extreme or intense than they need to be?
  • I Can’t. Do you write off a situation, assuming you’re unable to achieve or tolerate something simply because it makes you uncomfortable? This ties in with demands and absolutes.
  • Awfulizing. Do you focus on the bad or negative parts of a situation and totally ignore the good that can come from a situation?
  • Rhetorical Questions. Do you attempt to manipulate by asking questions without expecting an answer, in order to make others feel uncomfortable?
  • Statement of Fact. Do you make assumptions without consideration of the whole picture, and present them as fact? This is closely tied to objectivity.

Many refer to these common thinking errors as “BADLIARS,” an acronym designed to help you remember these thinking errors.

RDAP Readiness Statement

Near the conclusion of the first phase, each participant will be asked to stand in front of the group and read a readiness statement which explains why the participant is here and what they hope to get out of the program.

RDAP Phase 2: Core

RDAP Core Journal Books

  • Rational Self-Counseling. This workbook explores high-risk feelings and events, and provides tools to help participants achieve more desirable outcomes. This is when Rational Self-Analysis is introduced.
  • Challenging Thinking. This journal introduces the 8 Criminal Thinking Errors and helps participants challenge this thinking so they may live a pro-social lifestyle upon re-entry.
  • Prosocial Lifestyle. The final workbook of the second phase introduces the concept of a prosocial lifestyle and digs in to the impact criminal behavior can have on those around us.

The Three C’s

It can be difficult to understand your beliefs and how they lead you to process information. The journals introduce the concept of “The Three C’s,” which will help you distill your thoughts and understand where they’re coming from:

  • Conditions. The environment you’re in, especially physically.
  • Cognitions. The self-talk you give yourself related to the choices you make.
  • Choices. How you respond to the conditions you’re in.

Rational Self-Analysis (RSA)

At this point in the program, participants will be asked to regularly fill out one-page Rational Self-Analysis forms where they consider an event that happened during the course of their week. It can be a time when they did not respond well or a time when they were confused or otherwise emotionally effected. The form forces the following processes:

  • Camera Check. This is a technique used to take an objective look at a situation. Imagine you’re a camera which is looking at a situation from the outside as an unbiased third-party. This tool helps participants see things as they truly are.
  • Rational Challenge. This is the process through which individuals examine their self-talk to see if their thoughts are rational. One part of this includes The Five Rules of Rational Thinking:
    • Are your thoughts based on objective reality/facts?
    • Are your thoughts helping protect your life and health?
    • Are your thoughts helping you achieve your short and long-term goals?
    • Are your thoughts helping you keep out of conflict with others?
    • Are your thoughts leading you to feel the way you want to feel?
  • Desired Consequences. Participants are asked the simple question, “how did you want this to go?” This is another way of prompting participants to begin setting intentions when they enter social situations.
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8 Criminal Thinking Errors

Similar to the common thinking errors, the program discusses the criminal thinking errors that can be problematic not only in life but also as it relates to substance abuse. The eight criminal thinking errors are as follows:

  • Mollification. Do you make excuses or justify your negative behavior because of something you’ve done to “make it right?” Many who engaged in white collar crime have struggled with this thinking error. For example, someone who engaged in fraud may have justified their criminal activity because they were providing for their family or ensuring their employees kept their jobs.
  • Cutoff. Do you ignore or dismiss people without letting them be heard?
  • Entitlement. Do you feel you’re special or that your circumstances are different?
  • Power Orientation. Do you seek to assert your dominance in conversations as a way of inflating your own stature in a group or community?
  • Sentimentality. Do you engage in false empathy or kindness which is only to make yourself look good?
  • Superoptimism. Do you look at things in an over-confident way, believing you can navigate any situation and ignoring the potential consequences of your actions?
  • Cognitive Indolence. Do you take the easy way out or path of least resistance? This is commonly referred to as lazy thinking.
  • Discontinuity. Are you easily sidetracked to the point where you do not follow through with the commitments you make to those around you?

Ripple Effects

A ripple effect is the on-going and spreading results of an event or action. The journals will ask participants to consider the ripple effects of criminal behavior which includes victims, friends, family, society, and those in your community.

RDAP Commitment Statement

Near the conclusion of the second phase, each participant will be asked to stand in front of the group and read a commitment statement which shares the progress they’ve seen so far, identifies the ways in which the program will help them lead the life they would like to lead, and makes a commitment to embracing this change.

RDAP Phase 3: Transition

RDAP Transition Journal Books

  • Connecting with Others. This workbook dials in on the communication skills of participants and provides tools for strengthening the key relationships in their lives.
  • Strategies for Success. This workbook is about transitioning the skills learned in the Residential Drug Abuse Program for use in the outside world.
  • Moving Forward. This journal asks participants to consider expectations, potential obstacles, and how the skills learned throughout the program will help them live a happy and healthy lifestyle upon re-entry to society.

Seemingly Unimportant Decisions

Communication Styles

  • Passive. Passive communicators often ignore their own rights and allow others to make choices for them. Passive communicators struggle to express their emotions, needs, or ideas. What can often be viewed as “being polite” can culminate in a lack of understanding.
  • Passive-Aggressive. A combination of passive and aggressive communication, this communication style is manipulative and confusing. It masks the truth and is generally indirect, which prevents people from acknowledging issues and conflicts.
  • Aggressive. An aggressive style means a person expresses themselves at the expense of others. Aggressive communicators may find the reward of immediate, short-term success in achieving their goals but in the long run, often push people away.
  • Assertive. An effective assertive communicator is direct, clear, factual, and firm. Assertive communication demonstrates rationality and thoughtfulness, especially when it comes to making sure everyone is heard.
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Relationship Roles

Unhealthy Relationship Roles

  • Dominator. Dominators feel the need to be in charge and often make rules, statements, or decisions without input from others.
  • Manipulator. Manipulators exploit others to get what they want.
  • Neglector. Neglectors put themselves first and ignore their role in a relationship or community.
  • Poor Me. Individuals who play the poor me role tend to keep score and focus on the times they were done wrong. They are likely to avoid conflict or confrontation, allow others to take advantage of them, and generally avoid responsibility.

Healthy Relationship Roles

  • Forgiveness. Don’t keep score. Let go.
  • Respect. Respect others and, importantly, yourself.
  • Openness. Honesty and sincerely sharing who you are. Be open-minded to the experiences of others.
  • Praise. Be specific and celebrate those around you.
  • Trust. Trust your own thoughts, behaviors, and experiences, and allow yourself to place trust in others.

Internal Obstacles to Change

  • Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE). This is the tendency to give up when things are hard, or to interpret one (minor) slip up as a reason to give up on a goal.
  • Intense Emotions. Understand and identify when you’re experiencing intense emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, frustration, or boredom, and understand these are temporary emotions, not a reason to give up on your substance abuse goals.
  • Outcome Expectations. A major key to successful transition back to society is understanding how to respond if your expectations are not met.
  • Urges and Cravings, or Urge Surfing. Urge surfing is a technique to handle urges and cravings to use substances. These urges are not permanent – the journals illustrate a comparison to the rise and fall of ocean waves. When urge surfing, recognize an urge or craving will dissipate much like an ocean wave.

External Obstacles to Change

  • Relationships. Your key relationships with others inevitably change while going through the criminal justice system, including those with family members, your spouse, or children. Though it may be difficult to internalize, understand your loved ones will ultimately judge you based on how you act rather than what you say or do. The truth is, in most cases, a person experiencing incarceration has violated the trust of those around them and it must be re-built over time. Do not allow these social pressures to cause you to revert to old ways (like mollification) or force you into unhealthy relationship roles.
  • Housing. Housing can be the greatest challenge upon re-entry. Embrace the role of the re-entry services (like the Halfway House) and though it’s natural to wish to get out as soon as possible, allow enough time so you can take that step with confidence.
  • Employment. Searching for employment after release can be frustrating and disappointing, but manage expectations. Follow White Collar Blog’s guide to getting a job after prison and how to handle negative reactions when people learned you’re a convicted white collar criminal.
  • Financial Stress. Expenses can add up quickly. Come up with a clear financial plan, avoid the pitfalls of superoptimism, and take things one step at a time. Do not try to be a hero: accept the help provided by the federal system and your loved ones, and understand the slow path is (probably) your best bet.

RDAP Success Statement

Near the conclusion of the final phase, each participant will be asked to stand in front of the group and read a success statement which discusses, at length, what the program has done to change their ways of thinking and life.

Additional Resources & Further Reading