Evangelidis Puts a Face to Drug Use in Northbridge

The Daily Northbridge
By Deborah Gauthier

NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – As students filed into Northbridge High School’s auditorium Monday morning, their eyes were drawn to a large theater screen and a video loop of images from the Worcester County House of Corrections.

An inmate in a small room juggles a couple of oranges. He sits on a thin mattress on a narrow bed. About a foot away from the bed is a toilet and sink – no walls, no door, just the toilet and sink.

The image changes to another cell, the body of its occupant covered completely by a thin white blanket as he tosses and turns on the bed – the toilet and sink close by.

He stands and paces – a few steps forward, a few steps back. There isn’t much room. His arms reach out of the video frame and reappears holding a container of food and an orange. He sets them both on the side of the bed and again paces the few steps allowed in his cell. He picks up the container of food and throws it into the sink. He lies again on the bed and pulls the covers over his head.

That is life behind the walls of the Worcester County House of Corrections for 1,200 inmates, said Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, and he is determined to reduce the number of future inmates through his drug and alcohol prevention and education program.

Developed by Evangelidis, the FaceFace program reaches out to middle and high school students across Worcester County.

Drugs and alcohol, directly or indirectly, are the reason 90 percent of inmates are jailed, Evangelidis said, “and every one of them tell me they wish they could roll back the clock.’’

“That’s about the highlight of his day,’’ Evangelidis said of the orange juggler. Of toilets in the open, he said: “You don’t have the right to privacy when you go to prison.’’

The scene changes on the screen in back of him, jail cell replaced by a collage of familiar faces – athletes, musicians, actors – all of them dead because of drugs and alcohol. Then it changes again – Charlie Sheehan before and after drugs. “He’s become a laughing stock,’’ Evangelidis said.

Then a time lapse of Lindsay Lohan from her role in Parent Trap years ago to the troubled actress today – her fresh, beautiful face changes to the hard, brittle appearance of a user.

Photos change again – a hole in the mouth of a cocaine user; the rotted teeth of a meth user; sores on the skin of a drug user; misshapen nose of an oxy inhaler; a teen hooked up to machines for the rest of his life, heartbroken parents caring for him; an athlete, Len Bias, on his way to the NBA when a celebration with cocaine ended his life.

“Give me a few examples of why people do drugs and drink,’’ Evangelidis asked. “Stressed out; pain; to feel cool; to just do it,’’ were some of the answers

“Taking drugs or drinking alcohol won’t make any of your problems go away,” Evangelidis noted.

Marijuana is the “gateway drug… when you smoke pot there will be other drugs around,’’ said one of those featured on the video presentation. “I couldn’t stop smoking weed on a daily basis. I wanted that high,’’ he said. “Once you get high, it changes everything.’’

“These are real people and these are real stores,’’ Evangelidis said. “When you start using drugs you start hanging with different people.’’

“You’re generation,’’ Evangelidis said to the students, “is becoming known as Generation RX because of prescription drugs use.”

Because the drug was prescribed by a physician doesn’t mean it’s a safe drug. “These are very dangerous drugs,’’ he said, oxycontin and zanax among them, and he ended the program with the photos of four Northbridge students as they look now and how they would look after a few years of drug and alcohol use.

He suggested students who feel they have a problem attend the Self-Help Recovery group for young people between the ages of 17 and 25 held every Monday from 7 to 8 p.m. at Family Continuity on Church Street in Whitinsville.

And if you know someone with a problem, “talk to them; let them know there are programs like this out there,’’ Evangelidis said.