Choices and Consequences

Judge, prison inmates teach students importance of making good choices

The high school students stared silently into the screen broadcasting a live video feed from state prison.

One by one, men from Folsom State Prison dressed in blue introduced themselves, saying how long they had been sentenced to prison and how they got there. They also shared what they had learned about how their lives could have been different.

“It comes down to choices,” said Dominic Johnson, who was in prison for his role in a gang-related, drive-by shooting.

One choice he urged students to make was to reach out to those ready to listen to them and help them. Johnson said he wished that he had done that.

The exchange was part of a Choices & Consequences presentaiton led by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Richard Vlavianos. The free program is available through the courts to schools throughout San Joaquin County.

The presentation at at one.Choice and one.Reconnect – community schools part of the SJCOE’s one.Program – included speakers who joined Vlavianos at the school and video feeds from Folsom State Prison and the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. The day’s presentations centered on awareness of the consequences of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The presentation was about making good choices, but it was also about how to deal with trauma, Vlavianos said. Like many young people in San Joaquin County, the inmates had suffered trauma in their childhoods.

“It’s important for kids to understand that they are not alone, and that they see there is a good way to handle it and a bad way to handle it,” Vlavianos said.

Vlavianos told the students that bad experiences in childhood – ranging from parents getting a divorce to a child suffering severe trauma – are risk-factors for becoming incarcerated later in life. “If you don’t find somebody to talk to, they will eat you up.”

People with similar experiences can often connect with students in a way that educators can’t, said one.Program teacher Todd Baker. “It just reaches them on a whole different level."

Sa’eed Johnson, another Folsom inmate, said he was taking part in the presentation because he thought his experience could help young people avoid his fate of joining a gang and going to prison. He had been abused as a young child, and he wanted the young people to know if they had been abused that they had options.

“I didn’t ask for help.”


Posted: 3/14/2019