Inmates Tell Their Stories
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, the excited chatter in West Lecture Hall ceased as a prison guard led four inmates onto the stage. Only the removal of chains clanking together broke the silence. As the Grafton Correctional Institution inmates sat down, the program representative, Joe Harris, explained the intention of the talk titled “Truth Behind Bars.”
“Truth Behind Bars” was organized by the “Dope is for Dopes” youth outreach program. Facilitating discussions where minimum security inmates tell their stories to youths, “Dope is for Dopes” hopes to enlighten children about the impact that drugs, alcohol and crime can have on one’s life.
“[The inmates do this] because they’re trying to give back to society some of the things they’ve robbed from society,” said Harris. “This is not TV. These are real stories.”
While staying away from drugs and crime remained the prominent theme, the inmates tailored their talk to the college setting. Oberlin College students can help a child “just as much as we can,” said Troy Roop, the inmate facilitating the talk. All inmates stressed the importance of being a role model to someone else.
Inmate LeRoy White Jr., serving a seven-year sentence for cocaine possession, said he lacked a role model growing up. He “came straight from the hood” with a mother addicted to drugs. White recalled smoking his mother’s leftover marijuana at age seven. He also began fighting “at a very young age” and “went through about 12 schools.” In the ninth grade, White’s father gave him a pistol when his mother’s boyfriend threatened to shoot him. “I would have shot [the boyfriend] if I got the chance,” said White.
With no role model, White continued on a course where he sold cocaine, joined a gang, contemplated suicide and was shot twice. “One day the police kicked my door in and put a gun to my daughter’s head,” White said, recounting the final time he was caught selling drugs. Now he wants to become a role model for his daughter. “What made me change my whole complete life was my daughter,” he said.
“Your life can change like a light switch from light to dark,” said inmate Nikolaus Nageotte, who is serving time for aggravated vehicular homicide.
Nageotte initiated the second theme: anyone can end up in prison.
“I’m not like these guys. I didn’t grow up in the ghetto,” said Nageotte. Nageotte attended college before dropping out to take a corporate sales job that paid $100,000 a year.
One night after work, he went drinking with friends.
“I knew that I had too much to drink that day,” said Nageotte. “I’d done it in the past before [but] never been in trouble. I was ten minutes away from my house...my cell phone rings [and] as I answered my cell phone, I took my eyes away from the road. Boom — an accident! I thought I hit a deer. I didn’t know what I hit.” Nageotte had slammed into a car, killing the other driver instantaneously.
Nageotte insisted that he had every opportunity to do the right thing. “In college, I noticed I was partying a lot more than I was studying,” he said. At his job, he emulated his co-workers who would frequently drink and drive.
“So what is it [that] brought me to prison — the drinking and driving? Yeah. But it was my bad decision that made it happen.”
“The whole world is open for you right now,” Nageotte concluded, addressing the audience.
The inmates stressed that college students need to appreciate their education and avoid marijuana, which White called the “gateway” to other drugs.
“It’s not about skin color or ethnicity or where you grew up,” said Roop. “It’s about the choices that we made in our lives...we’ve done this to ourselves. You guys got decisions you got to make. I’m sure a lot of you take for granted your freedom and the things you got in life. A lot of people ain’t as fortunate as others. If you can help someone, make a difference in someone else’s life...carry the message that using drugs starts off [with] smoking a little joint [but the] next thing you know you’re a full-fledged drug addict. You may say, ‘Oh, I’ll never be like you.’ Keep experimenting [with drugs and] you’ll watch what happens.”
The talk was sponsored by the Brotherhood, an Oberlin College organization
for male minorities. The Brotherhood is community service oriented and works
mostly with the Boys and Girls Club, according to co-chair and Oberlin junior