John Simmons – Recovery Peer Support Specialist

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John Simmons

For John Simmons, the effects of his drug addiction became unavoidable when he was confronted with an ultimatum given to him by his supervisor – attend treatment or face termination.  John chose treatment.  He entered a 28 day residential program and stayed 42 days.  With an easy laugh, he jokes, “I’m an overachiever.”  He has been clean and sober since 1983.

That tendency for overachievement will serve Alleghany County well in John’s new role as the Recovery Peer Support Specialist tasked with working with those in the criminal justice system.  He will be connecting with those who are incarcerated, or who are on probation or parole with the goal of serving as a guide to help steer them into the best treatment options.  The position is grant funded and managed by the AppHealthCare (Appalachian District Health Department)..

John was born in Japan, the son of an Air Force airman.  His lived up and down the east coast from Bangor, Maine to Homestead, Florida.  When his father retired from the military, he brought the family back home to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

At age 18, John took a job with a large manufacturing firm in Fayetteville. And his drug abuse intensified.  He describes his drug use as abusing whatever was available to inject, inhale, swallow, or drink.  For six years leading up to his supervisor’s ultimatum, John knew he needed help, but until he was faced with losing his job, he lacked the motivation to take that crucial first step.

That background alone makes John uniquely qualified to help others navigate the turbulent waters from addiction to recovery.  But for John, the issues surrounding addiction are even more personal.

In 2004 his middle son, Brian, came home on leave from the Coast Guard.  He went out with some old high school friends and they spent the evening in Wilmington.  As the bars closed, the police estimated approximately 300 people gathered in the streets.  An altercation erupted and a young man who had been using drugs and drinking alcohol fired into the crowd.  Brian was struck by the bullet and died from his injuries.  He was 25 years old.

John’s youngest son, Philip struggled with addiction his entire adult life.  He had just been released from jail in Florida when he called John and said he was ready to make a change in his life.  John offered him a room in his new home in Sparta.  Philip wanted to visit his mother in Fayetteville before traveling to Sparta.  John advised against this decision knowing that old friends presented deadly diversions.  Within a matter of days, John received a call that Philip had died of a drug overdose.

The effects of addiction have impacted virtually every aspect of John’s life.

When John retired from his job in Fayetteville he and his wife, Lynda, began looking for a new home in the mountains.  He was familiar with the Boone/Valle Crucis area but found that real estate in those communities was prohibitively expensive.  Someone suggested he try Ashe County.  The realtor gave him directions to travel up 421, but serendipitously John and Lynda ended up on Hwy 21 and in Alleghany County.  They quickly fell in love with the area and settled here in 2011.

In Alleghany County, John continues to offer hope to those trapped in addiction.  He works with the Alleghany Drug Abuse Coalition and delivers treatment materials to inmates in the Alleghany County Jail.  He is active in local 12 Step programs.  His combination of lived experience and his desire to help others makes him uniquely qualified for his new role.

This newly created position is a cooperative effort between the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office and AppHealthCare.  Sheriff Bryan Maines has said that much of Alleghany County’s criminal activity is drug related.  By addressing the underlying issue of drug abuse and addiction, Alleghany County becomes a much safer place for all citizens and visitors.

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Sheriff Bryan Maines and John Simmons

John is quick to point out that while the 12 Step methodology worked for him, the path to recovery is different for each individual.  For some it is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).  Others respond best to the structure of long-term residential programs.  John describes his primary goal as keeping people alive long enough to help get them into a program that moves them toward recovery.

The commonality between all of those recovery options is the value of one-on-one peer support.  Those in recovery need someone who understands what they are going through and can speak truth to what it takes to recover from addiction.  John Simmons personifies that role.

Sheriff Bryan Maines – Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office

mainesBryan Maines’ roots run deep into the mountains of Alleghany – his family has been here for generations.  A 20+ year veteran of the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office, he worked his way through a variety of roles within the department.  He recently completed his first year as sheriff.  I recently sat down with him to review the accomplishments of his first year in office.  Specifically, we talked about new programs that he has initiated or expanded.

Are You Ok?

During his years as a deputy, Sheriff Maines had numerous experiences in which someone called the sheriff’s office and asked them to check on a family member who was responding to a telephone call.  These were often older adults, many of whom lived alone.  Deputies often arrived to find the person had fell and many times laid in the floor for hours before help arrived. In the Are You Ok? program, anyone who is homebound or mobility impaired can register and receive a computer generated call each day at a prearranged time.  If the person fails to answer, a series of checks take place ultimately resulting with a deputy responding to conduct a welfare check.  The program is designed to improve response time in the event someone has an unreported emergency.  The initial cost of the equipment for this program was $1000.


Drug and Violence Prevention Program

Sheriff Maines recognizes that having a true impact on crime and ensuring a sense of public safety requires a multifaceted approach.  While his department works assertively to attack crime head on through making arrests, Sheriff Maines also recognizes the role of crime prevention strategies.  Through the Drug and Violence Prevention Program, 5th graders in Alleghany County Schools are taught the negative consequences of tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse.  The program also communicates a strong anti-bullying message.  Most important, the students are taught strategies on how to avoid these activities.

Domestic Violence Grant

The sheriff office applied for and received a $100,000 grant that funds two full-time deputies whose duties are focused on domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.  These officers ensure that all sexual offenders are properly entered into the sexual offender registry (this allows anyone to determine if there are sexual offenders in their neighborhood).  The deputies also follow-up on instances of domestic violence and help the families receive assistance in order to prevent future acts of violence. This is a one year grant that must be renewed each year to continue the funding.


Every school in the county has a deputy visit the school each day.  Sheriff Maines points out that this is not just a quick pass through the parking lot.  The deputies actually go into the schools and spend time getting to know the students.  The visits are equal parts school safety and building relationships in the community.

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Sheriff Maines with Scout Troop 2795


Deputies currently patrol 150-200 miles per 12-hour shift.  These patrols have crime detection and crime prevention elements that are intended to keep the community safe.  Sheriff Maines encourages the deputies to get out of their patrol vehicles and to spend time getting to know the people in these communities.

Patrol Vehicles

Five pickup trucks have been rotated out of service and replaced with all-wheel drive vehicles.  These vehicles are more fuel efficient and will result in lower operational costs.  Three more vehicles are in transit and will replace three additional trucks in the near future.  The cost of these new vehicles is covered in part by monies seized as the result of drug arrests.

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Future Goals

  • Reduce Recidivism – The rate of people returning to jail or prison after their release is high. Sheriff Maines wants to address the causative issues and reduce the instances of people falling back into criminal behavior.
  • Community Outreach – Sheriff Maines wants to expand his outreach programs to keep the public better informed. He currently uses social media, speaking to civic groups, the local newspaper and other sources to make the public aware of scams and other potential criminal activity.
  • Church Security Program – Unfortunately, churches are easy targets for criminals. Sheriff Maines wants to offer consulting to churches so they can work to keep their congregations safe.
  • Internet Safety – The recent murder of a young girl in neighboring Virginia reinforces the fact that the Internet can be a dangerous place. Sheriff Maines plans to offer awareness training for families so that all family members can use the Internet safely.


Two words surface frequently when Sheriff Maines discusses the mindset and focus of the sheriff’s office – proactivity and prevention.  High visibility patrol, a strong visual presence in the courthouse, early intervention and prevention programs, relationship building with citizens of all ages are just a few of the methods used to keep the citizens of Alleghany County safe.  Sheriff Maines is quick to point out that it is a dedicated staff of deputies, detention officers, telecommunicators, and administrative staff that provide this public service.  It may all be summed up as simply neighbors looking out for neighbors.  It is a practice found throughout our county and a trait that is Absolutely Alleghany.


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The photos used were retrieved for the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.