"He just kept saying
'things aren’t right here'"

A court-ordered Oklahoma recovery program has earned praise for making drug addicts work and attend church, but participants say it’s little more than a scheme to enrich its founder and pay for his prize-winning goat farm.

story by Brianna Bailey
photography by Nate Billings
design by Richard Hall
published 12.10.17

FORT GIBSON — Daniel Drew Nole was off his psychiatric medication and talked about “hurting people” in the days leading up to a stabbing spree that ended in his death at an unlicensed Oklahoma recovery program. 

“We got a man that’s kind of freaking out, setting fires and cutting people with a knife,” the lone recovery program staff member on duty told a 911 dispatcher the night Nole died. “He’s wandering around here in the dark ...think he may be off his meds or something.”

A Cherokee County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Nole, 30, in October 2015 after he stabbed four people and tried to burn down Fort Gibson-based Faith Based Therapeutic Community Corporation. FBTCC is a nonprofit, faith-based addiction recovery program.  In exchange for unpaid manual labor, the rights to participants' food stamp benefits and regular church attendance, FBTCC promises help with sobriety. 

Set on a private goat farm in the woods near the Neosho River, FBTCC is one of numerous unlicensed recovery programs in Oklahoma that operate completely outside the boundaries of state regulation.

Many of FBTCC's clients come from the Oklahoma court system as a last-ditch effort to avoid prison time. Judges and prosecutors like the program because it makes participants work and keeps them out of prison at no taxpayer expense. 

Witnesses and family members told The Oklahoman that Nole was repeatedly denied access to his psychiatric medication while in the FBTCC program. In the days before Nole’s death, he began exhibiting signs of psychosis and spent most of his time hiding in the woods around FBTCC, said residents who were in the program with him.

Nole was prescribed several different types of psychiatric medications, including the sedative Klonopin, said Nole’s wife, Paige Rutland. Without Klonopin, Nole could become agitated and aggressive, she said.  

“It calmed him down,” Rutland said.

The FBTCC program was founded by James Mark Seabolt, 53, a convicted former methamphetamine dealer. 

There is no state oversight for FBTCC and other recovery programs like it. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which regulates drug treatment centers in the state, does not monitor FBTCC or require it to be licensed, because the program doesn’t claim to offer treatment for drug addiction — only “recovery.” 

There was only a hired driver watching residents at FBTCC, according to recordings of eight 911 calls from FBTCC the night Nole died. Nobody at the recovery program knew the street address for FBTCC to give to emergency responders. 

Nole set fire to a goat barn, a van and a workshop on the FBTCC property. A sheriff’s deputy shot Nole five times after he ignored commands to drop the knife that he had used to stab four of his fellow FBTCC residents. The District 27 district attorney's office later ruled the deputy's use of force was justified.

At least one resident was hospitalized for stab wounds after the attack. 

There was alcohol in Nole's system when he died, but toxicology tests found no other drugs, according to a medical examiner's report.

A hard life

Nole stayed at FBTCC for about a month before his death, trying to straighten out his life. He had warrants out for his arrest. A different recovery program in Muskogee had just kicked him out for stealing copper and trying to sell it. Child Protective Services was in the process of trying to take custody of Rutland and Nole’s two sons, ages 3 and 4.

The couple struggled with addiction.

Rutland, 27, is now serving seven years on drug related offenses at Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City.

The children are in foster care.    

Nole grew up in the Okmulgee County town of Beggs, population 1,321. He began racking up criminal charges soon after turning 18. Court records show multiple felony convictions ranging from stealing a car to assault and battery that stretch across four counties.

Nole’s mental health issues, as well as his problems with alcohol and methamphetamine, made it hard for him to function as an adult, said his mother-in law, Sharon Burchfield. 

“He didn’t know reality from what was in his head,” Burchfield said.

There was little media attention surrounding Nole’s death. The local newspapers only carried a few brief stories about the shooting, accompanied by Nole's prison mug shot.

The picture shows a skinny kid with a buzz cut in an orange prison jumpsuit.

“I guess that’s why nobody raised much of a fuss," Burchfield said. "We were really his only family.”   

Nole had a hard life, Rutland said.

His mother and father, both now dead, were alcoholics, she said. Nole told her he had been physically abused as a child.

In the spring of 2015, Nole stole and wrecked a car in Henrietta. An MRI after the car wreck found a tumor about the size of a quarter on Nole's frontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates things like planning and decision making. He underwent brain surgery to have the mass removed at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

Nole’s problems were misdiagnosed for years and he never really got the mental help he needed, his mother-in-law said.

After the surgery, Nole tried to get sober for his children. 

“He was a good daddy — he was good with those kids,” Burchfield said. 

Nole’s Facebook page contains many photographs of him hugging, kissing and playing with his children. In one series of photographs, Nole and one of his sons play in the snow in the parking lot in front of the machine shop where he once worked.  Nole is wearing camouflage coveralls, smiling as the young boy tries to catch snowflakes on his tongue.

“We were fighting for our children — all he wanted to do was get help for the sake of his kids,” Rutland said.

They did not give that guy his medication for two and a half weeks. He was saying 'I need my meds. it’s not going to be good. I need my meds.'

'Things aren't right here'

In phone calls to Rutland before he died, Nole repeatedly said there were things he wanted to tell her about the FBTCC program — things he said he couldn’t talk about over the phone.

“He just kept saying ‘things aren’t right here,’” Rutland said.

Brad Lindsay, 33, was a client at the FBTCC program with Nole. At FBTCC, Lindsay said he and about 20 to 40 other residents slept on rows of beds in an 80-by-100-foot metal building heated by a single wood-burning stove in the winter and without air conditioning in the summer.

Men in the program worked on a road crew or at other manual labor jobs and attended mandatory church services and Bible study classes. 

Although FBTCC requires men in the program to hand over all their wages and sign up for food stamp benefits, several former residents said they were sometimes fed expired food and free leftovers from a nearby Charlie’s Chicken restaurant. 

Before his death, Nole repeatedly asked FBTCC staff to take him to Green Country Behavioral Health Services, a local mental health clinic, so he could have his medication refilled, former FBTCC residents and staff told The Oklahoman.  

“They did not give that guy his medication for two and a half weeks,” Lindsay said.  “He was saying ‘I need my meds. it’s not going to be good. I need my meds.’”

Cameron Cantrell, 28, was one of the FBTCC residents who Nole stabbed. Nole chased Cantrell and the other men around the goat farm in the dark with a knife. He stabbed Cantrell in the right leg.

The week before he died, Nole had stopped sleeping in his bed in the metal barrack building at FBTCC. He hid in the woods. Other men from the program occasionally brought him food. Some residents believe Nole sneaked back to the barracks to use the shower while everyone else went to work during the day.

“He stayed out there about three or four days because he said he was scared he was going to hurt people,” Cantrell said.  “It was crazy how it all happened.” 

Nole hid in a storage shed filled with old clothes, mattresses and life vests in the woods behind the barracks, said Christopher Thomas, 44, a former FBTCC resident who also worked at the program when Nole died.

“He made a little place to sleep and the boys were taking him food,” Thomas said.

FBTCC staff thought Nole had run away and reported him missing to his probation officer, Thomas said. 

Although former FBTCC residents said Nole was denied his medication for weeks, Thomas said Nole was only off his medication for a few days before he started hiding in the shed.  

"I don't know why they wouldn't take him to get it refilled unless they just didn't have a driver," Thomas said. 

Nole emerged from the woods one night, announcing his return by lighting several small fires around the FBTCC property, including one at a goat pen for FBTCC program founder Seabolt’s prizewinning Boer goats. 

“He was hearing voices and they said to stab everybody,” Thomas said.

Seabolt was not at FBTCC when the sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Nole. He was out of town, traveling to a livestock show with his pedigreed goats. 

After Nole died, Seabolt dropped off all of Nole's belongings left at FBTCC at a local bank for Rutland to pick up.

“He wouldn’t meet with us or nothing,” Rutland said.

Seabolt paid $200 to help with the cost of Nole’s cremation, but only after Rutland asked, she said.

Seabolt declined interview requests for this story.    

“We’re going through a transition period right now that I can’t really talk about,” Seabolt said before refusing to answer additional questions and hanging up the phone.

Seabolt immediately hung up the phone when a reporter mentioned Nole. He did not respond to additional phone calls or text messages.

“Nobody’s here right now,” Seabolt said before hanging up again when a reporter called his cellphone again a few days later. 

While FBTCC used to house as many as 35 men at a time, several people told The Oklahoman that as few as six or seven men remain in the program today.

According to court records, offenders from neighboring Muskogee County District Court continued to be sent to FBTCC as part of sentencing or as a condition of suspended sentences as recently as May 2017, court records show. 

Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge said his office hadn't recently approved participation in the program for any offenders. 

Founded on faith

Seabolt, a former meth addict who spent two years in prison for drug and domestic violence convictions, founded FBTCC in 2011. 

Gov. Mary Fallin granted Seabolt a full pardon for multiple felony convictions in 2015 after several elected officials and local business leaders wrote letters in his behalf.

Men from FBTCC attend services each Sunday at Fort Gibson Church of Christ. Several of the Fort Gibson Church of Christ elders and deacons sit on the board of directors for FBTCC. None responded to interview requests. 

Fort Gibson Church of Christ has tried to distance itself recently from the FBTCC program, Pastor Dan Rouse said. 

Seabolt is still a member of the church and some FBTCC participants still attend services there, but it is as a matter of choice, Rouse said.

"The relationship with the church is not what it was a few years ago," said Rouse, who also wrote a letter in support of Seabolt's pardon that praised the FBTCC program. "If they do come here, we receive them on Sunday morning for about an hour." 

Seabolt breeds and raises championship Boer goats on the 27-acre FBTCC property, called Chigger Ridge Ranch.

While Seabolt claimed in his pardon application that FBTCC participants raise livestock to help fund the program, several former FBTCC residents said the goats are Seabolt’s personal hobby.

Seabolt and his family frequently travel to goat shows with their prizewinning goats, former residents and staff of the FBTCC program said.

Dvante Christopher, 25, who graduated from the FBTCC program in July after spending six months there, said Seabolt did not allow him and the other men in the program to tend to the goats, or be near the goat pens while his family watered and fed the animals. 

"He likes to be at the center of attention and he likes to be talked about in a good way and the goats allow him to do that," Christopher said. "We worked hard for him to purchase goats, purchase food and stuff for them and it really kind of makes me mad saying he was trying to help us."

Seabolt’s personal Facebook page is full of photographs of his family and him posing with their meticulously groomed goats, along with trophies and ribbons. The Seabolt family wears matching blue shirts emblazoned with the Chigger Ridge Ranch logo in the photographs.

FBTCC is located in the woods off a country road near the Neosho River in Cherokee County. The program sits hidden from view at the end of a long private driveway surrounded by tall grass and eastern red cedar. Two welcome signs adorned with decorative metal goats adorn the front gate, along with a metal cross.

Former Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore, who left office in 2015, who also attends Fort Gibson Church of Christ, wrote Fallin in glowing praise of Seabolt and FBTCC. Seabolt founded the program with the help of local businessmen and church leaders and has since helped hundreds of court-ordered offenders, the letter said.

“Multiple individuals with substance abuse issues that I had dealt with numerous times that I saw no other option other than prison were sent to FBTCC,” Moore wrote. “The success rate was astonishing.” 

A pre-pardon investigation conducted by the state Corrections Department found that Seabolt and his family’s home on 27 acres, the vehicles the family drove and all of their utility bills were paid for by FBTCC. 

The investigation recommended denying Seabolt a pardon because he was being sued by a former FBTCC client who claimed he was injured while working in the program. The Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously to recommend a pardon anyway.

In his pardon application, Seabolt said he founded the FBTCC to help recovering addicts like himself find God.

The program puts people struggling with addiction to work for the community doing things like setting up for Fort Gibson’s annual Sweet Corn Festival each summer and picking up trash from the side of the highway, he wrote.

“It took me years of praying and studying the Bible to forgive myself,” Seabolt wrote in his pardon application. “This forgiveness is one of the main focuses of the FBTCC program. I hold fast to the promises of God and it states in Isaiah 1:18, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’”

Muskogee County has a service agreement with FBTCC that calls for program participants to provide labor at a rate of $10 per hour, per man. The county money that men in the program earn goes directly to FBTCC and not the laborers. The FBTCC workers do work like filling potholes and clearing brush for the county.

Christopher tore the tip of his middle finger off while changing a tire on a piece of road grading equipment earlier this year while working on a county road crew.

Seabolt told him that he didn't carry workers' compensation insurance or medical insurance on participants in the FBTCC program.  Christopher was left with thousands of dollars in medical bills, and had to borrow money from his grandmother to see a specialist, he said. 

After Seabolt took him to see a doctor who wrapped his finger and gave him antibiotics, Christopher was sent back to the road crew, although the doctor gave him a note excusing him from work. 

"I was back to work that same day," he said. "It was the worst pain I've ever experienced." 

The men receive job training and many are later hired on as permanent employees of the county, said Muskogee County Commissioner Ken Doke. 

“I’ve seen a lot of guys really benefit from that program,” Doke said. “It helps them become productive members of society.”

Doke said he believed men at FBTCC received counseling and participated in classes through the Muskogee Bridges Out of Poverty program.

Former FBTCC residents who were interviewed said most of the classes are led by Seabolt's friends, relatives or other men in the program. Muskogee Bridges Out of Poverty said no classes had been taught for the FBTCC program for over a year.

In October, nearly two years to the day after Nole's death, Seabolt's house at Chigger Ridge burned down. 

There were two suspicious fires within days of each other at Seabolt’s house in October. The first fire did minimal damage, but was found to be arson, according to the Office of the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal.

No one has been arrested or charged yet.

Seabolt's house was declared a total loss after a second fire, two days later.  The cause of the second fire is still under investigation.

Pardon Application Mark Seabolt by NewsOK on Scribd