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By Walter Bird Jr.

Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, all 6-feet 7-inches of him, has been bringing his anti-drugs and alcohol messages directly to area middle and high school students for almost a year.

He started the Face2Face program last April and visits about two schools a week. Evangelidis estimates he’s led about 50 programs so far, with an average crowd of 500-600 students. Conservatively, that means he’s spoken directly to about 25,000 kids he puts smack in the middle of the age group where drug and alcohol abuse start.

Add Burncoat Middle School to the list, where Evangelidis went on Wednesday and spoke to approximately 600 students.

After the program, he answered quickly and matter-of-factly when asked if he thinks this program is having an effect.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m positive we’re reaching some kids and making them think. You’re not going to reach every child, but I can’t imagine this isn’t something worth doing.”

The programs are about 45 minutes long and Evangelidis tries mightily not to let them dissolve into lectures, knowing full well he has a limited amount of time to capture the fleeting attention of the pre-teen set.

“We built this program around the idea of hitting the buttons of what kids respond to,” Evangelidis said.

His presentations are heavy on video images, including many celebrities. One of the most impactful segments came when he pointed to a screen containing images of such celebrities as Heath Ledger, Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston and Jimi Hendrix.

“What do all these celebrities have in common?” he asked Burncoat students, pausing as they murmured.

“They’re all dead,” he said, solemnly. “This is not the page you want to be on.”

In his presentations, Evangelidis makes sure to hit on all the drugs of choice – alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroin – as well as household products such as Drano. He spends particular time on prescription drugs such as Oxycontin. The latter, typically prescribed to relieve pain, has become a favorite among narcotic users and can be debilitating and deadly.

The sheriff doesn’t drown his crowds in statistics, but he had a few numbers for Burncoat students, saying there are 1,193 inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections. The average stay is two-and-a-half years he said, and most inmates are in their early to late 20s.

“Every inmate tells the same story,” Evangelidis said. “It’s just a different person.”

That story almost always involves drugs or alcohol. Between 85-90 percent of the inmates and the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections are addicted to one or the other, Evangelidis said.

At Burncoat, he gestured to the video on the screen behind him, which showed an inmate standing in a cell small enough that he would almost be able to touch walls with both arms stretched out. The man holds a carton containing his lunch in his hands, tosses it in the trash, looks around the cell, and finally climbs back onto his cot and pulls the sheets over his head.

“He’s just going to go back to sleep. That’s all he can do,” Evangelidis said, turning to the crowd. “I can guarantee you most of your bad days are better than that guy’s. You lose your right to freedom and privacy. You lose everything.”