LAGRANGE – Four visitors, wearing chains around their ankles, were ushered into the auditorium of Keystone Middle School by two police officers Wednesday morning.
The men, inmates at Grafton Correctional Institution, spoke to eighth-graders as part of the Dope is for Dopes program that was presented at the high school earlier that day.
Mark Turner, the school’s resource officer, said unlike the television program Beyond Scared Straight, in which inmates try to intimidate young people from committing crimes, the Dope is for Dopes program initiates meaningful conversation between the students and the inmates.
“There’s no yelling. There’s no screaming. … It’s just an education,” he said.
The eighth-graders were told not to be scared of the inmates, but they were warned that their visit was the real deal.
“These are not actors. There are real inmates. They’re in prison 24/7,” Turner told the group.
The prisoners – Matthew Paschall, James Moore, John Parker and Jaron Jackson – are serving time for a variety of drug and alcohol-related offenses. Each man spoke to the students and warned them of the path they may face when using drugs or alcohol.
James Moore, 37, told students that he began selling drugs in high school so that he could buy new clothes and shoes. He said he was tired of being picked on for having so little as a child.
Moore said he didn’t have the best family life, and he shared a bedroom with his mother and two sisters in a home with no running water. He saw selling drugs as a way out of his situation, but he said the decision led him to neglect his family.
Moore is now serving 10 years for aggravated drug trafficking.
“I haven’t been able to spend one birthday with my youngest daughter. … She don’t know what a father is (sic),” he said.
Moore added that he is worried that his 17-year-old son is following in his footsteps.
“He wants to be like his father so much, one day I might wake up and he might be sleeping next to me,” he said.
Inmate Jaron Jackson said it was their choices that led to their incarceration. He urged students to focus on their dreams and their education and to avoid peer pressure.
Jackson was sentenced to nine years for gang activity, furnishing a firearm to a minor and for drug charges. Jackson said it was his gun that was used to kill an 11-year-old boy.
He added that people he believed to be his friends have abandoned him during his prison sentence.
“We’re not cool. We are not role models. We’re striving to be role models, but we’ve got a lot to do with our lives,” he told students.
Students had the opportunity to question the inmates, and the inmates asked their own questions of the group. When asked whether students had bullied others, a few students raised their hands.
Matthew Paschall, who said bullying was partially to blame for his drug and alcohol use, also asked whether students had consumed alcohol, used cigarettes and marijuana.
“That alcohol made me not feel the pain, but what happens when you wake up? That pain is still there,” Paschall said.
Paschall will be released from prison Friday after serving two years for his fifth DUI. He said he is most looking forward to using the bathroom alone and spending time with his family – the little things he took for granted in the past.
Each of the inmates was able to volunteer to speak as part of the Dope is for Dopes program. The men were able to escape the confines of the prison walls for a few hours, but the program has become more like therapy to them.
“A friend introduced me to the program,” Moore said. “It’s opened me up doing things that I’ve never done before. It really started to cleanse me… The program taught me that it’s not just about me. (My incarceration) affects so many other people.”
Dope for Dopes program has been implemented by the Grafton Correctional Institution for 15 years, with inmates traveling across Northeast Ohio to speak with schools and nonprofit groups.
Moore said he believes that the program deters kids from committing crimes because kids can identify with him and his situation.
“They feel more comfortable opening up to us, because they relate to us,” he said.