Despite controversy, Chainbreaker’s Ministries celebrates opening of Frierson House in Holly Pond

Doug and Cassandra Canter look on as Ray Frierson Jr. (center) cuts the ribbon at the Frierson House Saturday afternoon, April 6, 2024. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – Local nonprofit Chainbreaker’s Ministries on Saturday, April 6, cut the ribbon and welcomed visitors to the grand opening of the Frierson House addiction recovery/transition center in Holly Pond. Founders/Directors Doug and Cassandra Canter introduced volunteers and the men living there, and invited visitors to tour the facility, eat lunch and hear the story behind the house. Doug Canter refused to label his residents as “patients” or “clients,” instead calling them “family.”

“We’re proud to do what we’re doing, you know,” he said. “This is an honor to do this, and just to watch these guys. There was a young lady that brought them some cupcakes, and three of my guys just started crying. And I said, ‘Well, what are you crying about?’ They said, ‘I never felt what it felt to be loved enough for someone to bring me something like that.’”

The center was named for the Canters’ friend Ray Charles Frierson, a worship musician who helped Doug Canter through his own hard times. Frierson’s son Ray Charles Frierson Jr. cut the ribbon.

While they are like family to the Canters, the director emphasized that his men are subject to strict discipline, including regular 16 panel drug screens that can detect not only typical illicit substances, but also the still-legal substances sold at many convenience store checkouts. According to Doug Canter, even energy drinks are prohibited in the facility, and medicines as benign as Tylenol are kept under lock and key. 

“I told them the other day, ‘I’m doing this because I care. I’m not doing this because you’re in a penitentiary. I’m not doing this because I’m trying to be rude, but I’m doing this because I know what it takes to bring a life back from where it is.’ And I have more respect from every one of these guys than I’ve ever imagined having. My wife walks in the house, and every one of them stands up and starts talking: ‘Miss Cassie, can we do anything for you, Miss Cassie?’ They’re very, very respectful – very respectful. And they’re just hurt.”

Canter said he has already seen two men fail drug tests, but his approach is to relocate offenders to better equipped facilities rather than expel them onto the streets.

“We have zero tolerance for (failed) drug tests, but we don’t throw them in the street,” said Canter. “If they fail a drug test with me, obviously my program’s not working, so I pick up the phone and I call my other ones (partner agencies) and we find them a bed somewhere else.”

The facility has a large barrack-style bedroom where men start in bunk beds with no privacy. As they move through the program, they can graduate to other rooms with more personal  space. A separate room with regular beds has been designated for older participants who might have trouble with the bunks.

“Because addiction has no age limit,” said Canter.

The posted list of regulations is three pages long, including requirements as basic as made-up beds every morning. On the posted weekly schedule, 6 a.m. is the typical wake-up time, with lights out at 9 p.m.  In between, the men do chores, participate in Bible study and travel to meet with addiction recovery support groups. On Sundays the group travels to local churches for worship.

The Frierson House hosts only men. Canter said he partners with other agencies to which he refers women who need similar services.

Facing controversy

As recently as the Monday before the opening, the Holly Pond Town Council received heated complaints about the facility, including an allegation of misinformation about the conversion of a former but currently unused church building. One audience member, Mary Nardozza,  argued, “That church was a church; it didn’t have nothing to do with a rehab center,” and asked if the organization had properly notified the community of its intent.

Mayor Carla Hart, who attended Saturday’s opening, answered the complaint, “We have been three meetings over discussion of this rehab or transition house. It has been stated in the last two meetings: we didn’t bring them here. We have no say about it; we cannot micro-manage them. Under federal law, they are a disability group. They do ministry there. A lot of this has already been checked out – their license. But I’m telling you: this has already gone over.

“And I don’t mind how you feel and your comments. Like I said, that’s what we’re here for. We’re all here together; we all live here together. But we have no say. We cannot tell them what they can and can’t do. We can’t tell them they can’t be there. It’s no different from you buying your home the way they bought that.

“That should be against the law, because people have rights,” responded Nardozza.

Asked about zoning, Hart reiterated that Holly Pond has no zoning ordinance. Nardozza’s husband Tony Nardozza complained about “rehab hiding in a church” and predicted lower property values around the facility. 

Town Attorney Dan Willingham addressed the complaints, emphasizing the absence of a zoning ordinance in the town and pointing out, “It’s a protected class of people; you can’t zone them out any more than you could a minority of any other sort. And if we tried to, then we would be violating the federal statutes. And so, I guess you can look at it like this: you can’t decide who can live in anybody’s house. You know, you can’t decide how many kids they can have and how – if they’ve got handicapped children, or anything of that nature. They’re protected classes, and you can’t regulate those.”

Councilwoman Julie Ray, who at previous meetings voiced opposition to the facility, told the audience, “Let’s pray for these guys and this situation, OK, first and foremost. I live on the other side of it; I know what goes on every day. I see it, and it’s very unfortunate. I don’t know their circumstances; I can tell that they’ve been through some really rough stuff. They’re not in a good frame of mind, I’m sure. There’s a lot of them.”

Ray called what she has heard about – and from – the former church facility “heartbreaking,” saying, “That is tough to hear, and I have heard it at 10 at night, I have heard it at 4 in the morning, I have heard it all hours of the day. So we need to pray for that building. We need to pray for the people that are there, because what was told that was going to happen there has not been happening. So it really hurts my heart to know that that is a precious building, and what has been said over there is not very nice, because it’s like a microphone. It carries, OK? So keep that in mind.”

Canter said his men are aware of the concern and opposition, noting, “And they know about the few that don’t want them here, and all they say is, ‘Let’s pray for them.’”

In a statement to The Tribune following the opening, Canter wrote:

“Chainbreaker’s Ministries wants to thank Holly Pond community, Refuge Church of God and members, Bread of Life (Pastor) Wayne Barnette and members, Kingdom Impact Church (Pastors) Zach and Alisha Beard and members, Cowboy Church of Holly Pond and members, Holly Pond Methodist Church (Pastor) Dwight Kidd and members, Jason and Amanda Whitehead, Good Samaritan clinic, The Link in Cullman, Chad Smith (live band), Mayor Carla Hart of Holly Pond, Councilwoman Debrora Holcomb of Holly Pond, Lisa Holmes Celebrate Recovery of The Methodist Church, Rodney Thompson, and so many others who came out and supported the opening of The Frierson House. If we missed anyone we do apologize. 

“A special thank you to Ray Frierson, Jr. for the ribbon cutting.  Most importantly, thank you Jesus, because without you none of this would be possible. We are so blessed God chose us to be a part of helping change lives. Without God being in the ministry, it simply wouldn’t work. God has already started changing lives. Fourteen men have given their lives to Christ, and four have rededicated themselves to Christ! 

“Most of all, we hope that the community will continue to support The Frierson House. We serve a second chance God, and with all of us working together, our community can be changed and lives restored. We look forward to seeing what God  has in store!”

Canter concluded his statement with a quote of Jeremiah 29:11-15 – “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, sanity the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall call upon me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, Saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I called you to be carried away captive.  Because ye have said, the Lord hath raised us up prophets in Babylon.”

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