Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Jailers talk tough to young people

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GREENHILLS — The jewelry Carl Cannon deals in is just as shiny and well-made as the kind sold by a respectable dealer. The various pieces are long, strong and can be worn many different ways.

        But those familiar with Mr. Cannon's jewelry hate it.

        Even he hates it. As a corrections officer with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Mr. Cannon deals in shackles, belly chains and handcuffs.

        “You are one mistake away from giving up control of the rest of your lives,” he told 700 seventh- and eighth-graders Monday at Winton Woods Middle School. Mr. Cannon and three co-workers who accompanied him hope to deter future clients.

        “If you stay out (of prison), your choices are as big as you choose to make them,” said fellow corrections officer Lewis Westercamp. “In my house, your choices are small and I make most of them.”

        The corrections officers are part of an Illinois-based program called Youth Outreach: Can't Have Our Independent Choices Endangering Society (CHOICES), founded in 1996 by Mr. Cannon. The program emphasizes making intelligent choices for a successful life.

        At the medium-security federal penitentiary in Pekin, Ill., 30 miles south of Peoria, Mr. Cannon and his colleagues help oversee about 1,500 prisoners.

        “If (the inmates) could talk to you today,” Mr. Cannon told the students, “they would beg you not to make the same mistakes they did. There is not one of them who doesn't remember the name of a teacher who tried to help them.”

        The officers conduct the forums on their own time.

        The sometimes graphic talks are designed for the age level of the audience, said Jerry Stoneburner, another corrections officer, who talks about how positive choices made a significant difference in his own life.

        Mr. Stoneburner tells youngsters that he used to run money for drug dealers as a teen-ager. Eventually, he was caught and sent to a correctional facility where he realized he didn't want the life he was leading.

        “I'm not preparing you for prison,” he said. “I'm telling you what prison is about and you don't want to be there.”

        Kim Shoemaker, a guidance counselor at the Greenhills school, said the students were not aware of what they would be hearing when they crowded into the gym Monday.

        “I hope that the message that came to me, went to the kids,” she said. “They need to listen and make positive choices. I hope this makes them think about their lives and how much good they can do with them.”

        Beverly Hood, an assistant principal at the middle school, agreed.

        “We try to focus on the benefits of making positive choices with our young people, and we hope that this (program) reinforces that at any age good choices are important,” she said.


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