Personality: Jason T. Pritchard

Spotlight on Board President for Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance

7/4/2024, 6 p.m.
Jason Pritchard knows rock bottom — and what it takes to lift oneself from the depths of addiction. As the …

Jason Pritchard knows rock bottom — and what it takes to lift oneself from the depths of addiction. As the board president of Richmond-based Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance (SAARA), he is constantly fighting for the underserved.

His early life was marked by extreme poverty in Appalachia. In the 1980s, local jobs there didn’t pay enough to support a family. His parents, struggling to make ends meet, grew marijuana and sold moonshine alongside their jobs at cotton mills.

Pritchard’s journey took a turn when he found himself in prison, facing a five-year sentence after more than 15 years of alcohol and drug addiction.

However, the survival skills he honed in prison transformed him, igniting a determination to prevent others from ending up like him.

“Prison is isolating,” Pritchard said. “You learn a lot about yourself very quickly. It’s scary and empowering at the same time.”

Without a re-entry program, he landed a job as a culinary trainer for Olive Garden after his release. Later, he learned about a job at Ballard Health, a regional hospital chain. The organization wasn’t in the practice of hiring anyone convicted of a felony within the past seven years, but Pritchard, a four-time felon, convinced them to give him a shot.

He quickly became certified as a peer recovery specialist there and was promoted to Recovery Program Manager, overseeing $3.4 million in grants to help those in recovery or re-entering society after incarceration. His mission was to help them find hope and purpose.

As board president of SAARA, Pritchard not only helps those with substance abuse — he can be a voice for people convicted of drug charges, Pritchard is also the director of outreach for Virginia at SaVida Health, an opioid and alcohol treatment services provider. He travels throughout the state to help those who are under the foot of addiction.

Pritchard, recently married, only sees his wife on weekends.

She’s ok with that because she sees what he’s doing to help others. They have date nights and do faith-based community work when he’s home.

While his parents continue to struggle financially, he helps them with home repairs and celebrates them with expensive dinners. Yet, he remains humbled by his success.

His work with SaVida Health overlaps with his work with SAARA. Pritchard aims to shift hearts and minds to reduce the stigma of those in recovery who have served their criminal sentences. He advocates for legal reform to give people a pathway to redemption.

Meet a former addict turned advocate empowering others to overcome addiction and thrive, drawing on his personal experience to educate and inspire and this week’s Personality:

Volunteer position: President of the Board of the Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia (SAARA)

Occupation: Director of Outreach for Virginia at SaVida Health 

Date and place of birth: Aug. 20 in Columbus, N.C.

Where I live now: Bristol.

Education: Polk County High School in Columbus, N.C., associate’s degree of applied science from Virginia Highlands Community College and a bachelor’s in finance from Virginia Tech.

Family: I got married last year. We live in Bristol and my parents, brother and sister also live in the area.

What is the SAARA: SAARA of Richmond is an advocacy and recovery organization that gives a voice to the recovery community at the state level. With affiliate locations across the state, SAARA can stay attuned to regional recovery issues and address the needs of the recovery community by advocating for policy change and reform at the state and federal levels.

Mission: To transform Virginia communities through hope, education and advocacy for addiction prevention, treatment and recovery.

When and why founded: SAARA began with a group of individuals who responded to a sign-up sheet circulated at a Substance Abuse Awareness Week luncheon in Fairfax County in Nov. 1996.

Founders: A group of individuals in recovery. 

Headquarters: 2222 Monument Ave.

How SAARA works: From its inception in 1997, SAARA has recruited, engaged and retained significant numbers of families with children in treatment and recovery, adults in recovery and on the staff of organizations providing substance abuse treatment and prevention services, and members of recovery networks associated with alumni groups.

Who is eligible for services: Individuals in or seeking recovery from substance use disorder.

Services include: Statewide advocacy and training, Alive RVA Recovery Warmline, community outreach and education, peer recovery groups, behavioral health docket.

Funding: Private, public and individual giving.

Partnerships: Community organizations that promote behavioral health wellness. I initially got involved with SAARA: I got involved with SAARA by completing my peer recovery specialist training in January 2019. After spending 11 days in Richmond taking the class and seeing what SAARA did in the community, I knew it could be a means of having a voice from Southwest Virginia tied to Richmond. Many working in or associated with the recovery community in far Southwest Virginia often feel forgotten or voiceless in state policies.

When elected board president: I was elected board president in January of 2024.

Why SAARA is meaningful to me: SAARA is important because of the work they do to create more opportunities for those who are formerly justice- involved. A felony conviction shouldn’t be a life sentence.

No. 1 goal and strategy as board president: To help Executive Director Victor McKenzie, expand the reach of SAARA through my recovery journey story and extensive network of contacts across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Biggest challenge: I believe that the biggest challenge is the outdated legislative policies that restrict justice-involved individuals from living a restored life across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Number one joy I have witnessed through working with SAARA: The number one joy I have witnessed through working with SAARA is having the Barrier Crime Reform Bill signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Ways to contact SAARA if in need of assistance: www.saara.org, info@saara.org, 804-764-4445.

Upcoming events and details: There will be a Friends and Family Cookout in September!

How I start the day: I start my day praying that God will guide my actions and lead me to those he would have me help. After serving three consecutive sentences totaling five years, I feel that I am walking in my calling and fulfilling my purpose.

The three words that best describe me: Approachable, motivated and successful.

Best late-night snack: I love fresh fruit smoothies with a fruit juice base.

Top three on my playlist: “Revolutionary” by Josh Wilson, “Grave Robber” by Crowder, “God Only Knows” by King + Country.

A quote that inspires me: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”

The best thing my parents ever taught me: Life requires hard work to survive. The person who influenced me the most: My pastor, Jeff Carico. We met before I went to prison and he wrote me once a month for five years while I was incarcerated.

The book that influenced me the most and how: “Legal Loopholes: Credit Repair Tactics Exposed,” by Charles Dickens.

Next goal: My next goal is to prove that people in recovery can hold and excel at corporate jobs while maintaining their recovery.