Youth from the Lee County Boys and Girls Club experienced the harsh realities of prison life last week when they toured the Polk Youth Center.
“You can’t eat when you want, you ain’t got no freedom,” said J’Vante Knight, 17. “Prison isn’t a good place to be; it’s not a place you want to go.” As recently as two years ago, Knight was on the wrong side of the law. Now involved in the Boys and Girls Club, he was one of 17 young adults to participate in The Lee County Sheriff’s Rising Star program. The prison tour was part of the three-day program, which exposes youth 13 and older to the realm of crime and punishment. Rising Star aims to give the teens a new perspective, according to Maj. Carlton Lyles with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.. “Hopefully, they got a chance to see the positive side of law enforcement,” Lyles said. “We’re human too, and we were teenagers once too.”
Rising Stars is designed to show participants all aspects of the criminal justice system. On the first day, Deputy Shawn Ellerby led a session on teen driving and the consequences of drinking and driving. On day two, Sgt. Matt Rosser demonstrated the equipment he uses to solve crimes. The teens also toured Lee County Jail, saw the sheriff’s K-9 unit at work, met with the local magistrate and visited the Probation Office. District Court Judge Addie Rawls also welcomed the group into her courtroom. “She actually let the kids sit on the bench,” said William Johnson, teen director for the Boys and Girls Club. “’Who wants to be a judge’ was the basis of her discussion.”Johnson said that after explaining the education and experience required to hold her position, “she closed with, ‘How many of you still want to be a judge?’” The trip to Polk Youth Center in Butner is often not what the teens expect, according to Johnson. “It’s not a little fun-packed trip, it’s a real-life field trip,” he said. “I wish we could take more that could see it before they get into trouble.” At the prison, the teens talked to a man incarcerated for murder and another who had been the head of a gang. The inmates offered advice from their hard-earned experience. “They told us to listen to our parents, stay out of trouble and watch the company we keep,” said Jerraysheya Fox, 16. For, Elijah Moore, 15, the prison environment was a deterrent in its own right. “There were like 30 people in one cell,” Moore said. “It’s hot in there, no ac.” Like Knight, Moore had been involved in criminal activity like breaking and entering and had done time in a training school. Since his experience through the Boys and Girls Club, he now aspires to earn his high school diploma and become a professional football player. Fox plans to attend college and major in international business. Through the Rising Star program, she said, she and her peers learned the consequences of making the wrong decisions. “It’s a great learning experience,” Fox said, “and it could save a lot of young people from getting into trouble.”
Courtesy of the Sanford Herald