25 in 25 Volunteer Spotlight: Barry Grant – The SMART Counselor Who Found Freedom Behind Bars

Throughout SMART’s 25th Anniversary year, culminating in our National Conference September 20 – 22 in Itasca, Illinois, we will honor volunteers representing many types of individual service.


Barry Grant found SMART Recovery through our InsideOut program. After finding success within this program, Barry was inspired to help others, working as Counselor, SMART Recovery Global Ambassador, and an incredible motivational speaker. 

By Bill Greer, SMART Recovery USA Board President

I first learned about Barry Grant when he shared his inspirational life story at the 2014 SMART’s National Conference. See it here for yourself.

As we try to figure out the reason for SMART’s success, volunteers like Barry are the answer – an individual who overcame 23 years of criminal and addictive behavior and went on to become a professional counselor with a master’s degree in human services, and a global ambassador for SMART Recovery.

Personal experience, including five years in prison, taught him our foundational principles, especially unconditional acceptance of self, others, and life. Learning these concepts is daunting for inmates, who find themselves in a position devoid of hope, feeling victimized by their own shortcomings, the disrespect that other people have for them, and a life with limited opportunities to find a job, a home and a family that will love them.

Barry found himself in this abyss after being sent to prison in 1997 for a jacket full of violent crimes and addicted to multiple substances. Early in his stay, he met another inmate in the prison yard, Barry DeLeon, who had discovered SMART Recovery, and introduced him to Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Barry Grant learned more about SMART corresponding with then executive director Shari Allwood.

Barry explains that Rich Dowling, a co-founder of SMART was also very instrumental in his experience of transformation early on. Dowling conducted research for the Inflexion study that drove the initial InsideOut: A SMART Recovery Correctional Program® while Barry was receiving treatment in a halfway house. Barry says, “I consider what he and I did as the fundamental building blocks of how to free oneself from the inside-out.” Barry says that while Rich passed away a few years ago, “he lives on in my heart and through the ever-evolving mission.”

Dowling took the time to visit Barry while he was in prison, and seeing Barry’s desire to explore world religions and philosophies, sent him Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and James Allen’s “As A Man Thinketh.” He was especially moved by the teachings of Frankl, the Vienna neurologist whose experience in Nazi concentration camps inspired him to write the renowned book Man’s Search for Meaning. Reading this book when serving in solitary confinement, he found parallels between SMART Recovery principles and some of Frankl’s most famous words:

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

The last of these helped transform Barry’s perspective of prison. While behind bars, inmates lose only their physical freedom; they retain the freedom to think and learn and dream, limited only by their imagination.

In his first volunteer work for SMART, Barry shared his insights into addiction, recovery, and behavioral change in a column for our News & Views newsletter. He started in 1999 while still incarcerated with the column titled “Inside the Walls.” He continued this writing for 10 years; the title was changed to “Outside the Walls” after his release in 2002.

A gifted motivational speaker, he has promoted SMART in numerous presentations to audiences ranging from San Jose, California, to Aberdeen and Glasgow, Scotland. He has presented often to professionals in the correctional field, highlighting SMART’s InsideOut Program for prisons. He contributed to the development of that program, and most recently has written the workbook for a 12-meeting version for jails, which is currently in production. Barry’s service to SMART includes a period on the Board, from 2006 to 2011.

In his work as a counselor over more than 15 years, Barry has helped many inmates regain their sense of self, what he calls their authentic self – the individual they were before self-destructive behavior led them astray and the person they can become as they build a new life with balance, purpose, and meaning.

Barry challenges their sense of victimhood, along with the anger, despair, and feeling of powerlessness that distracts them from focusing on change and recovery. If Viktor Frankl could find meaning while trying to survive the worst conditions imaginable in a concentration camp, anyone can. Overcoming these obstacles is extremely difficult, but it can be done, and Barry is living proof of that.

“Regardless of the journey, SMART can work for everyone because we are all going through something,” said Barry. “Whether it is the recovery of gifts, talents, skills and abilities, which appear to be lost, or recovery from self-created experiences of limitations that do not exist there is no jailer as efficient as he or she who is incarcerated by their own thinking. It is through SMART that I found my purpose as an instrument of transformation.”

We are so thankful for the contributions Barry Grant has made to SMART Recovery and look forward to seeing the impact of the great work he continues to do!

About the 25 in 25 Volunteer Recognition Program

The heart of SMART’s 25th Anniversary celebration in 2019 is the story of an extraordinary community of volunteers who have built a worldwide organization devoted to supporting individuals recovering from addiction and their family members and friends. These volunteers include addiction scientists and treatment professionals who designed a self-empowering 4-Point Program® and joined people with the experience of recovery and trained them to lead mutual support group meetings.

Together they have created and refined a peer-professional mutual-support group model that combines the best science for treating addiction with the lived experience of recovering from addiction – the world’s largest and only community of this kind with more than 3,000 group meetings in 23 countries. Each year, participants in these groups help each other recover at more than 150,000 meetings, in-person and online, led by volunteers trained how to use the SMART program.

Throughout SMART’s 25th Anniversary year, culminating in our National Conference September 20–22 in Itasca, Illinois, we will honor volunteers representing many types of individual service.

Click here to nominate a deserving individual.

Click here to learn more about the program and to see all who have been recognized.

About SMART Recovery

Founded in 1994, SMART (Self-Management And Recovery Training) uses science-based techniques that have proven to be effective in helping people recover from addiction problems involving any substance or behavior, including such things as alcohol, drugs, gambling, over-eating, shopping and internet use.

Each week, many thousands of people discuss recovery progress and challenges at more than 3,000 in-person meetings in 23 countries, daily online meetings and 24/7/365 internet message board forums and chat rooms.

Participants use SMART to assume responsibility for their own recovery and become empowered using its 4-Point Program®: building motivation; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and living a balanced life.

For more information, please visit www.smartrecovery.org.

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