LAND O’ LAKES — The students at Land O’ Lakes High School were clearly uncomfortable handling an inmate-issue shirt from the Land O’ Lakes Jail.
The students passed the drab short-sleeved shirt quickly, as if it were teeming with bacteria.
“It just went through the laundry yesterday,” said detention deputy Cpl. Tim Bullock, who distributed the shirt during Tuesday morning’s Juvenile Choice presentation. “But, maybe it still has some particles on it.”
If the shirt made students uncomfortable, the stories told by Bullock and Cpl. Ron Gardner, also a detention deputy, seemed to leave them disgusted.
Some teens and young adults who arrive at the jail are so strung out on drugs, the deputies said, that they are found drinking from unflushed toilets. Sometimes they can’t control their bodily functions.
The presentation was meant to outline the pitfalls associated with drug use and other crime and to persuade students to make choices that don’t land them in jail. The talk featured videotaped testimonials from inmates at the overcrowded Land O’ Lakes Jail, home to about 1,500 inmates, and frank talk from Bullock and Gardner.
Gardner asked how many students had ever been around drugs. At first, only a handful of students raised their hands.
“Come on, be honest,” Gardner said.
Eventually, about 85 percent of the students’ hands were in the air.
That’s when the deputies showed a picture of Jennifer Olen, who they said became addicted to “oxies,” or oxycodone, and was eventually jailed on home invasion and robbery charges.
In a videotaped interview Olen, 27, said that she most misses her family and common, everyday freedom.
“My sister just had twins,” she said. “I’m close with my family, and I’ve lost that. A lot of people come through (the jail). It’s like a revolving door. It’s their second home.
“I wanted to have fun and party, but it takes hold of you. It will drag you right down. I had no control at all.”
Students gasped when they were shown photos of two young women, former models, and a young man; they were in their 20s, but the ravages of crystal meth had transformed them into wrinkled forms with sores on their faces.
They were shown pictures of inmates in their cells. The male, female and juvenile inmates were depicted as shamed and angry, seemingly full of regret.
Gardner told the students that people “have no friends in jail.”
“You have no privacy in jail,” he said, showing a picture of a jail cell with a bunk bed situated a few feet from a stainless steel toilet that flushes every 15 minutes.
“Look at how close that (toilet) is to the bed,” Gardner said. “If you’re on the bottom bunk, you’re going to get splashed by urine. And you can’t get mad, you know why? Because the same thing will happen when you use the bathroom, It happens to everybody.”
Toward the end of the presentation, students saw a testimonial from heavily tattooed inmate Jirel Soto, 32, who was affiliated with the notorious Latin Kings gang. Besides local charges related to child abuse and drugs, jail records show that Soto has been arrested on felony battery charges in California.
“When you come to jail, you’re going to run into somebody like me,” Soto, a gang member since age 14, said in his videotaped interview. “I’ll see you before you see me.”
Bullock and Gardner said afterward that they make similar presentations at other county schools, as well as at Morton Plant Northbay Recovery Center, which has juvenile facilities in Land O’ Lakes, and PACE (Practical Academic Cultural Education) Center for Girls in Hudson.
“I get surrounded by the wrong people sometimes, but this really showed the severity” of how bad decisions can influence your life, he said. “It won’t be that hard to say no.”