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Lewes, Delaware
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June 26, 1998     Cape Gazette
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June 26, 1998

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CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, June 26 - July 2, 1998 - 43 SCHOOL & EDUCATION " SCI inmates teach Cape students dangers of peer pressure By Kerry Kester After Cape Henlopen High School juniors left maximum security at Sussex Correctional Institution on Monday, May 18, they went to chapel - a few feet from the bars that confined those men convicted of the most serious crimes against society: murder, rape, child abuse, vehicular homi- cide - endless horrors. "Hey, come on. Get in here," called an inmate to the teenage girls as they passed by the dark, overcrowded cells. The girls shuddered and huddled closer together. One girl whispered to another, "Let's stick together - the buddy system - OK?" In the chapel, they met Danny, a former Cape student now serving a life sentence for murder. "There was a time that night when I want- ed to back out, but I was scared to tell Tony. He might think I was a chicken, a wussy. So we ended up doing this burglary, and we ended up taking a life." Danny was 17 that day. "I could die right here in jail. This could be my whole life." The students were quiet as they listened to Danny's tale about the events that led him to a crime that forever changed his life. "I thought I was a loser. I thought I was stupid. I never really took time out to look at my life. I always wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted by my peers," said Danny. The good-looking, kind-visaged 28-year-old prisoner explained that even at 17, the state recom- mended Danny receive a death sentence. He said he believed the state had every right to make such a recommendation. Looking directly into the 24 teenage faces, Danny said, "You guys have something. You have a choice. That's something that's beautiful - having a choice." The Cape students were at Sus- sex Correctional Institution (SCI) because they signed up to attend the program, Prison Insight for Kids. Three correctional officers volunteer their time to reach youth before they find trouble thatcould lead them to the criminal justice system: Sgt. Henry Purnell, Sgt. Rudy Drummond and Cpl. Ron Hall. "What happens sometimes is kids get hung up on things," said Purnell, who led the day's tour of the facilities. "The most impor- tant thing right now is for you to get an education," he said to the students. "The thing is, you can't listen to your peers. You need to listen to people who have been there - parents, teachers..." Most of the prison population, said Purneli, is illiterate. "Once you go through here, I guarantee you won't want to come back," he said as the students prepared for sign-in, metal detection and con- finement in the barred chambers between one area of the compound and another. Prison isn't pretty Danny's co-defendant, Tony, also tried to reach the students, firmly telling them that their home lives, their environments or the perceived injustices in their lives were not acceptable reasons for making poor choices. Tony, the product of a broken home, lived in 30 homes by the time he was 16. He started shoplifting when he was 8; at 12, he was drinking and using drugs; by 14, he had 73 charges pending against him for burglary, theft and related charges. "I allowed life to dictate what was going to happen to me," said Tony. The issues for teens, he said, is not whether they enter lives of crimes. The issues are low self- esteem, substance abuse, problems with authority figures and suc- cumbing to peer pressure. He stressed the need for the youth to continue educational pursuits. "The average educational level in here is the seventh-grade level," said Tony. "You guys are already Above, Cape Henlopen High SChool students, led by Sgt. Henry Purnell, walk from one part of the main campus of the Sussex Correctional Institution facility to Sussex Boot Camp. The students volunteered to participate in the prison tour on May 18, for a program called Prison Insight For Kids. Below, Cape Henlopen High SChool students stand behind Sussex Boot Camp cadets who are engaged in a counseling session. above that. He encouraged the students to further develop love for themselves, despite any out- side influences; he encouraged them to set goals and make appro- priate choices to reach them. Each of the prisoners who addressed the students emphasized the need for education; all empha- sized the dangers of peer pressure. Some painted graphic pictures of life inside the walls of a prison. "You don't get a handbook to do this [live in prison]," said Bruce, who is serving a 24-year sentence. "You've heard about people getting beat up, getting raped - all that happens here," he said. There is no privacy. "I'm almost 40 years old. Can you imagine how degrading it is to be told to strip down naked? Do you know how many phones I've seen kicked off the wall, snatched off the wall, because they [inmates] didn't get to finish a call? That's prison Continued on page 44 Encourage your children to read this summer Doing dishes the other day, I noticed the name of the soap, Ultra Joy. Not just Joy, but Ultra Joy. I like that adjective, ultra. I like the noun, joy. Ultra joy is a good phrase to describe how teachers feel at the end of the school year. There is a little reminiscing with students, signing yearbooks and some hug- ging. Then, as the last bus pulls out of the parking lot, we experi- ence it, ultra joy. Summer has indeed come into full focus once again. Before you head to the beach, pool or off on a picnic, stop by the local library and sign everyone up SCHOOL JOURNAL for their own library card. Take along some good reading material. If children see parents reading books and newspapers, they are more likely to read. If parents make regular stops at the library, children will always have good books available. The Lewes, Milton and Rehoboth Beach libraries are all sponsoring exciting summer read- ing programs. Children can sign up to participate. The only requirement is that they read books and keep a 16g. This is just the kind of incentive that children can use to keep a good reading habit going. Summer residents are welcome. Stop by the library and sign up the children anytime. To celebrate reading, the libraries have special guests. Taggatha Calentine will tell muiticultural stories, sing and dance at 10 a.m., Monday, June 29, in Milton. Jungle John will present live reptiles and amphibians at 10 a.m., Wednesday, July 1. Check it out. For more information, call Mary Catherine Hopkins at 684-8856 or stop by the library for a complete schedule. July 1 and 2 are picnic days for the little tots up to age 6 at the Lewes Library. On July 27, the Rehoboth Summer Children's Theater will present "The Wizard of Oz" for ages 4 and up. Weekly story times are 10:30 a.m., Wednesdays, for toddlers, and 11:30 a.m., Thursdays, for preschoolers. An awards party will be hosted by Chris Maddox, "The Bard," who will tell stories, award prizes and provide fun. Summer is hot. Why not cool down with a great book? Diane Saienni Albanese is a parent and a teacher in the Cape Henlopen School District and at Delaware Tech in Georgetown. Diane Albanese