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The Gardner News
By Sam Bonacci

Gardner- As surveillance footage of a prisoner pacing his cell was displayed behind him, Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis urged a group of freshman at Gardner High School to avoid drugs – and the fate of the incarcerated man.

“Everything is based on drugs and alcoholism and there are choices and consequences,” said Mr. Evangelidis of his Face2Face program during a visit to the high school Thursday. “I try to hit what it will do to your life. What it will do to your appearance. What it will do to your insides. I try to hit every button I can in the program.”

Mr. Evangelidis said the inmates he oversees in his role as sheriff most frequently cite drugs as the main cause for decisions that led them to jail.

“I hope (the students) think twice before they make their decisions involving drugs and alcohol, because there are real consequences,” he said. “For 90 percent of our inmates, there is a direct path between their drug and alcohol use when they were younger and right to prison. They tell me that, and they say to me if there is any message to bring to young people, it is to think twice about drugs and alcohol.”

The Face2Face program brings that message into schools in the form of a multimedia presentation featuring videos of actual prisoners who explain how drugs ruined their lives. Mr. Evangelidis wove in information about substance abuse throughout the presentation.

The program also details the physical deterioration drug users experience.

“I try to show them that if nothing else, it can affect their appearance. They are teenagers. I know they care what they look like,” said Mr. Evangelidis. “It’s just a way to reach them and get them to think twice.”

The potentially fatal implications of drug use were highlighted in several ways during the presentation. One slide showed a number of celebrities, who have died because of substance issues. such as singer Amy Winehouse, who the sheriff noted was alive when he began the Face2Face program.

The sheriff also shared the stories of several inmates who could trace their time in jail back to drug use. As addiction takes over and loved ones around the user begin to pull away, he said, their situation becomes more desperate, leading to crime.

Mr. Evangelidis said while not every child will heed the warning outlined in the presentation, he hopes that by providing information and showing the consequences of poor decisions some students may stay away from substance abuse or make a chance in their lives.

“Let’s get people to never go to prison in the first place,” said Mr. Evangelidis of one of his goals as sheriff. “Kids and education is the way to go. It makes a society safer when kids aren’t on drugs and alcohol.”

The Face2Face program started last spring, and with over 25 school visits already, the sheriff plans to travel to every school district in the county.