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News Education Reality Check 101 has a message for MMS

Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland explains to Macon County middle schoolers the importance of “just saying no” to illegal drugs. Holland, along with three inmates from the Macon County Detention Center, presented the ninth annual Reality Check 101 program. The inmates spoke to the youth about their experiences as criminal offenders and how drugs led them to their current incarcerations.Inmates tell stories of the perils of substance abuse.

Students at Macon Middle School recently got a reality check. As part of a program for Macon County Schools, the sixth and seventh grade students listened to a presentation about the scourge of drugs and alcohol known as “Reality Check 101.” In total, all 590 students at Macon Middle School were given the presentation.

In the middle school gymnasium, four chairs sat facing a bleacher stand full of students; in the chairs sat three inmates from the Macon County Detention Center, a fourth was left empty as the former inmate who frequented the program died of a drug overdose. Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, along with three correctional officers, accompanied the guest speakers.

The inmates, who won’t be named for privacy issues, from the Macon County Detention Center volunteered to speak to the students all day Thursday, Oct. 25. Dressed in orange and white striped suits and handcuffs, the inmates shared stories of how their lives were negatively impacted by substance abuse.

One female inmate, 60, was in jail for three months for trafficking opiates. She explained that last summer she went through a roadblock with a friend and as the car got searched, unprescribed pills were discovered in the vehicle. Although she said they belonged to the passenger, she explained that she tried to take the rap. Instead, both individuals were charged.

Her addiction to opiates was not a new one.

“The more you take, the more you have to have,” she told the students of her addiction. “Be careful who your friends are. Jail is not fun.” The inmate said that in the long, boring hours of jail, there is nothing to do and no privacy. Since she was first put in jail, she has had one visitor.

“I’ve read 30 books in the three months I’ve been there, I’ve been so bored. I was so bored I alphabetized them. There is nothing to do but sit and think about how I got there — drugs. And then when you go to court, they bring you in shackles for all the world to see. It’s so embarrassing.”

The woman, who has even lost her own family to drugs, urged the children to live a healthy lifestyle. “If anyone offers you drugs, don’t take them. Always remember to respect yourself.”

Another inmate, 24, who has been in jail since April for admittedly breaking and entering into homes to steal goods in return for drugs, walked the students through his addiction, from its beginning in middle school, to his current confinement.

“In eighth grade a friend got me to smoke pot, and one thing led to another and I started in on drinking and later on pills. It got to the point where I was stealing from my friends and family to get high,” he said. “Drugs caused me to do all this kind of stuff.”

Finally, another inmate, 24, explained he’d been in jail since June for felony breaking and entering, probation violation and driving while impaired. He explained that his parents never did drugs nor his sister, and that he had a loving and respectable family. To be different, he began drinking and smoking marijuana as a freshman in high school. He quickly progressed to harder drugs like cocaine, opiates, barbiturates and methamphetamine.

“I spent up all of my money on drugs. I had no money left but I still wanted to get high. So I started stealing. Mostly from friends and family,” he said.

His lowest point, he explained, came after he had been awake for over a week on methamphetamine. He began to break into his own home to steal, and his father caught him. “We got into it,” he said. “I ended up punching my dad in the eye and knocking him down. I remember, I didn’t get him mad at me. Really, I broke his heart. There’s nothing like that feeling. They loved me and cared for me, and that’s what I did to them,” he said.

The inmate suggested that the students stay drug-free.

“Go the right way. It’s a wonder I’m not in prison right now and I am lucky, but you don’t have to get to this point to figure out to do the right thing. Do it now.”

Holland asked all the inmates where they wanted to be in five years, and all the inmates said they wanted to be with their families.

Finally Holland acknowledged the empty chair next to the inmates. “We still have her uniform,” he said. “You know what that’s for? The next person to come to jail ... You’re never in a situation that you can’t get out of, but there are people out there that will use you.”

The program was first initiated by Sheriff Holland in 2005, and was exclusive to inmates talking about their struggles with substance abuse to students from grades 5- 12. The program includes nonincarcerated victims of past substance abuse.

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