It was right after Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin when people from this drug program came into the classrooms to act out getting high and either having a 'bad trip' on LSD, or getting totally zonked on heroin. It was called "Scared Straight," and the purpose was to frighten us so badly that we'd never go near that crap.
Not soon after, the Health Department hired smelly, long-haired hippies to man their Sexually Transmitted Diseases program, and they too visited our classrooms. They had graphic photos of herpes outbreaks, syphilis lesions and pubic hairs crawling with lice. Not long after that, of course the anti smoking coalition had to come in with photos of disected black lungs and mouth cancer.
That was a time before cable TV. CBS, NBC and ABC were all we got. No worry, we were desensitized by bloody, gory, graphic images courtesy of our schools.
Would something like Scared Straight work with today's kids? Has TV, social networking and video games desensitized kids so much more than I was at their age that even witnessing tragic consequences first hand won't influence their decision-making process enough to prevent their own tragedy?
Yesterday, I was able to witness today's version of the Scared Straight program at one of the local schools. The entire high school of 1800 students attended the demonstration of the events surrounding 4 teenagers partying, driving impaired, and getting into a high speed, head-on wreck.
It was an all out simulation. The teens were torn up, bloodied and trapped in the vehicles. There were more police cars than I've ever seen in one place, and just as many ambulances. Firetrucks and rescue teams were topped off by the MedFlight helicopter that flew in to take one of the victims to the hospital. Jaws of Life took the roof off one vehicle, and the injured were extracted on backboards from both cars. Except for the drunk driver. He was taken away in handcuffs, and the only one unhurt. Only 17 years old and the sole cause of so much devestation.
Today, the school followed with a video of what happened at the hospital, doctors pronouncing two dead, the parents' reactions, the driver booked and tried and sentenced. When the video finished, a pastor delivered a eulogy with two caskets, real caskets, on the stage next to him. Then, the students that acted in the simulation and their parents all came out to give speeches on the experience. There was even a Grim Reaper.
"I hope it hit home."
"If it saves one life, it was worth it."
This presentation had a big impact on me. I watched the faces of the kids there, and a good number of them were reacting the same way I was. The film brought it home. When the camera was on a girl in the back seat of the party car, she was genuinely crying and in a state of panic.
One mother was an ER nurse and she described how parents react to being told their child is dead in such a way that my skin went cold. She said it was a sound like you'll never hear at any other time; a wailing scream. The boy pictured above played the character of the drunk driver. He didn't have a prepared speech; he spoke from his heart and told his school to take this seriously because he sure did. His mother said the worst part of it was how many lives were destroyed by her son's one bad decision.
I don't know the statistics of the 70's Scared Straight program. What I do know is that, at the very least, it caused me to think twice about indulging in illegal drugs. At the most, it stayed at the back of my mind for life.
You're never the same after witnessing a traumatic event.