By Jeff LaBonte
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis returned to Swanson Rd. Intermediate School Monday morning, November 21, for some frank discussion with the 5th graders about drug and alcohol abuse. This is the second year that Evangelidis has brought his message to SWIS. Again, Evangelidis did a terrific job engaging the group of 9 and 10 year olds while discussing an admittedly difficult topic.
The Sheriff Office’s Face2Face program was created by Evangelidis, and is the only program of its kind in the country, according to Kimberly Roy, Director of External Affairs for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Evangelidis has had plenty of practice at this; “We’ve presented to over 182,000 students at over 100 schools” he said before Monday’s presentation. “We do about one of these a week.” Most of the presentations are to middle and high school students around Worcester County.
While not graphic, the presentation was eye-opening, as much for some of the adults in the room as for the students. Evangelidis started with a bit of humor, telling students he could read minds. “Think of a question to ask me,” he told them. “Okay, I know what it is. And the answer is I am 6 feet 7 and a half inches tall” joked the towering sheriff.
“No one thinks they are going to go to prison” Evangelidis continued, as images from one of the prison cells at the Worcester County House of Corrections played on the screen behind him. He went on to explain how prisoners are stripped of many privileges, any items that could be used as weapons, and even toilet seats on the commodes in the cells. Then he brought out a prison uniform to show the students, letting some of them feel the stiff fabric. “These are not made for comfort. They are made to be durable. These are 100% polyester.”
Evangelidis said almost 90% of today’s inmates are incarcerated due to addiction issues, and he asked the students why they thought people would choose to get involved with drugs. The students’ responses made clear that they are not naive to society’s drug issues. “Stress,” answered one student. “Depression,” said another. “They think it’s cool, said a third.”
Evangelidis touched on a number of misconceptions about drug use, notably that there are no “safe drugs” like marijuana is sometimes called, because it is just a plant. “Cocaine, opium, those are made from natural ingredients, too” he told the students. “And lots of drugs are made with dangerous chemicals, or things are added to them that make them more dangerous.”
One segment of the presentation showed before and after photos of well-known celebrities who became involved with abusing drugs, such as Macaulay Culkin and Lindsay Lohan. Evangelidis also incorporated images of some of the inmates they have encountered over the years. The drastic changes in the appearances of these individuals drew gasps and surprise from the students.
“Addiction,” Evangelidis concluded, “can happen to any family. Life is about choices. Everyone eventually has to make a choice about whether to get involved with drugs and alcohol. We want you to make the right choice.”