Courage to Live

Do you have the courage to live? Have you ever had the chance to right a wrong, and in the process affect another? Half a dozen times a year several inmates housed at the North County Detention Facility have that very opportunity. It’s a program called “Courage to Live”.

Imagine yourself back in Junior High school. You look up and see Correctional Deputies escorting two individual’s right by you wearing handcuffs, blue jeans and a blue shirt with the words “SO. CO. Jail”, written in large black letters, on the back. Now the deputies remove the handcuffs and step away. Are you scared? I would be. Well these inmates are not there to hurt or scare anyone; they are there to deliver a message, to share their lives, to educate.

In 2004, Superior Court Judge Nadler decided it was time to make an impact on today’s youth. After ruling over thousands of criminal cases, he saw a pattern. Most of the cases were directly related to drugs and alcohol. He knew something needed to be done, so he piloted a program to take to the Junior Highs and Middle Schools around the County. Along with representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, CHP and each school’s local Police Department, a program was devised to help steer youth away from the threats of alcohol and drug use.

In this program the students are shown a series of pictures, set to music, relating to the hazards of alcohol use. Once this has engaged their attention the inmates, who are incarcerated on drug or alcohol charges, are escorted to the front of the auditorium. They speak about their lives filled with drug and alcohol use. Often they reveal they were just about the same age as the students when they began using on a regular basis. They tell their stories explaining how drug and alcohol use led to other crimes, loss of relationships with family and friends and how jail is no party (no matter what Paris Hilton might tell you).

Now comes the hard part, the questions. Could you imagine having to stand in front of a room full of middle school students sharing how messed up your life has become because you decided to use drugs and alcohol. These selected inmates do a great job. They put their fears and tough guy attitudes away, and begin to speak from the heart.

Once the inmates share the intimate details of the degradation of their lives due to drugs and alcohol, letting the students know that they don’t even get to wear their own underwear in jail, they are handcuffed and returned to custody. This is only the beginning of the program though. Over the next hour representatives from the different agencies will clarify the myths of drugs and alcohol. They will describe the effects using could have on the students vastly changing bodies and how it could alter their lives. Random students will then be selected to wear goggles, duplicating the various alcohol levels and how these levels can effect their coordination.

The Courage to Live program has proven to be beneficial to many people in many different ways. It provides the students a new understanding how dangerous drugs and alcohol are. It also brings a sense of self healing to the inmates who are selected to speak. These inmates have expressed, on several occasions, that the opportunity to talk about their lives in front of people has made them realize just how much their own drug and alcohol use has affected them and has giving them the “Courage to Live” a better life.

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