ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Years of abuse. A police officer corrupted. Eighteen months of college credits wasted. A young man’s life gone. A self-entitled young woman with “give me” on her mind.
The stories of five inmates — Scottie, Tomekia, Keith, Angela and Eric — tugged at the hearts of nearly 30 children, teenagers, church members and parents on a recent Thursday night at Pineville AME Zion Church in Rock Hill.
The program, entitled “What Will You Learn from Your Mistakes,” opened with a warning from its coordinator, Veronica McCleod.
“Young people feel as if nobody’s ever looking when they do something wrong,” she said. “What I’ve learned in my life is that there is someone who is always looking.”
Eric, who said he could “quote any Scripture or tell you anything you wanted to know about the Bible,” realized who was looking in 2007 when police pulled him over after he left his parents’ house. Officials, who had been watching his parents’ home for two days, found drugs in his car. After they arrested him, “they tore my parents’ house up,” he said, only to find more drugs inside.
“My parents could have been arrested,” said Eric, who said his parents instilled godly values in him but he still rebelled.
“I was always a follower,” he said. “I threw away a college education to hang out with my homies.”
Now, he’s serving a seven-year sentence.
Joining Eric was Scottie, who encouraged children to “shut the door” on negative influences.
If Scottie had done that, he’d be home with his daughter. Instead, in February 1997, he dropped her off at home, went to a friend’s house, grabbed a gun and went after four men who jumped him earlier.
His girlfriend was in the car with him, ready to jot down Scottie’s attackers’ license tag number to report it to police. Instead, when they found the car, Scottie rolled down the window and shot into the car “multiple times.”
“I took a young man’s life that night,” he said. Now, he’s serving a 23-year prison term, and his girlfriend is serving a 15-year sentence because she didn’t report the crime.
Keith was a paramedic-turned-police officer who became addicted to prescription pain pills and began feeding information to drug dealers. He now has 10 years in a cell to help kick the habit.
Angela, who had dreams of becoming a professional cheerleader or veterinarian, suffered from an abusive mother and husband. She packaged, sold and used drugs to cope. In 2004, she was arrested and won’t be free for four more years.
“Popular” Tomekia, 27, never thought she would get caught as she sold drugs and carried weapons. For the past six years, she’s lived with a sudden hearing disability while serving a seven-year sentence for drug trafficking.
None of the inmates who spoke Thursday were permitted to give their last names, say which facilities they were serving time in or be identified in photographs.
“I know they’ve made bad decisions,” 7-year-old Zakira Pegues said after the program. “If I were to do something bad, I would regret it.”
Elizabeth Bullock, mother of 6-year-old twin sons Johnathan and Dakota Horton, sought advice from Scottie about one of her sons, who she described as “defiant,” ”disrespectful” and angry.
After listening to Scottie explain what kind of intervention could have prevented his incarceration, Bullock said, “I feel more knowledgeable about my disciplinary ways” toward her sons.
Sgt. Shawn Brady with the S.C. Department of Corrections introduced “Operation Get Smart” and gave a staggering statistic to the attendees. The state has placed a number on a life sentence, Brady said: “Nine hundred ninety-nine years.”
“That one decision you make tomorrow can be 999 years,” he said. “Prison truly has no face.”
At the end of their minutes-long speeches, each inmate echoed the same slogan: “Get Smart. Stay Smart.”
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