High School and Middle School students heard firsthand what a life of drug addiction and imprisonment is like from ex-offender who, after nearly eight years of drug addiction and 12 years in prison and halfway houses for a gang-related homicide, had an important message for them: Where one ends end up in life is based on choices and decisions. Make good ones. Alcohol, smoking/vaping and drug/marijuana usage are terrible choices which will always have negative effects on a person’s life.
Michael DeLeon, founder of Steered Straight, the non-profit organization formed in 2007 after his prison release, spoke at four different assemblies to the entire student population at both schools on Jan. 3. He shared his important message about the extreme dangers of drugs, alcohol, gang involvement and associated criminal activity that inevitably results from these activities. He was candidly direct with students, talking to them with raw toughness and “no holds back” relatable teen language about his life experiences.
Throughout his presentation, Mr. DeLeon regularly implored students to use the negative consequences of his poor choices and decisions as teachable moments to stay away from alcohol, smoking/vaping and drugs and marijuana.
Officials at both schools said his messaging was important enough to gather everyone from their classroom environments to hear what he had to say. The assemblies were presented as part of the district’s ongoing commitment to its character education curriculum.
We invite you to view the Steered Straight “Parents Academy: The Truth About Drugs” video
Mr. DeLeon has spoken to more than 14 million students/young adults in more than 9,200 schools and facilities and is considered to be the leading school presenter in the nation and expert on vaping and THC. (THC is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant. It’s what makes people feel “high” when they smoke marijuana or eat an edible.)
During his presentations, Mr. DeLeon talked about his life as an Irish immigrant, which was filled with all kinds of abuse and bullying, tremendous poverty, divorced parents as well as his mother’s murder. These experiences led him into getting involved with smoking, drinking and drug use beginning at a very young age. His comments included a lengthy amount of time focusing on his alcohol, marijuana and fentanyl usage, often times speaking in graphic terms about the negative impacts they had on his life.
Mr. DeLeon, who is now a drug addiction and addict researcher, is the author of several books and magazine articles on these topics. He’s also consulted on and/or produced television, cable, public service announcements film and documentary projects on these subjects.
He told students there’s three things every addict has in common.
“They all started in their teens, smoking, drinking and using marijuana,” Mr. DeLeon said, stressing students should not be fooled because without a doubt, these are definitely gateways to worse activity and behaviors.
Students were given materials on these topics and invited to learn more about these hazards with additional materials available for download.
Mr. DeLeon shared stories of students who died as a result of their poor choices, for the shock value of maintaining the attention of students at the assemblies. Many students often raised their hands, when asked, if they knew of anyone who vapes, drinks or even uses marijuana or other substances.
“The only one who can stop this is you,” he said. “I’m begging you. You got to understand that your future is determined by your choices and it affects your family. Don’t let what happened to me, happen to you. I’m on a mission now to reach as many young people and use my story so what happened to me never happens to you.”
As part of this, Mr. DeLeon spoke in great detail about the hazards of vaping, describing in exhaustive detail the very dangerous and sometimes lethal ingredients contained in vaping paraphernalia. He forcefully told students they need to wake up to see and understand that manufacturers are focusing their marketing efforts on getting young people to purchase materials, purposely ignoring the critical personal health issues which will result from usage.
He challenged them to stop the cocky “it can’t happen to me,” “what’s the big deal” and “it’s only vaping…and it’s mango flavor” attitudes many young people have about vaping.
“You are being lied to,” Mr. DeLeon repeatedly said. “I am here to tell you the truth and you need to hear this and listen to it.”
He encouraged students to make good choices, find a trustworthy adult to talk to and break any cycles of drug abuse, violence and bullying that may be impacting them.
“There’s smart people in this room,” added Mr. DeLeon. “They can help you to navigate your world. But they can’t help if you won’t let them or if you’re telling them everything is ok…when it’s not. Reach out. Don’t jeopardize your health or your life.”