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Holloway Students Spellbound by Addict's Tale

MURFREESBORO — Most people are probably familiar with the “Scared Straight” program that took youth into prisons and jails to see the consequences of breaking the law.

Michael DeLeon questions that approach.

“Some of these kids, you can’t scare them,” he said. “They scare me!”

DeLeon was at Holloway High School Wednesday afternoon presenting his own program — “Steered Straight.” The former drug addict, convicted felon and gang member believes teaching children how to make the right choices is more effective than scaring them away from the bad ones.

“I think we’ve pulled away from prevention education to a dangerous tipping point,” he said. “I want to teach them about the making good choices, not just tell my story.”

But he does tell his story, and uses it to teach. It’s a really good story – there’s a happy ending. It’s a really bad story – there are drugs, murders and anguish along the way.

The high school students were leaning back in the bleachers when DeLeon began to speak about growing up, not caring about school and joining the Navy. They looked at their phones, nudged each other and sort of paid attention.

“Then I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina,” DeLeon said. “It was there I met my wife. It was there I met my addiction.”

At that point, the teens in the bleachers started paying more attention. By the time he led them down his path, from legal amphetamines to illegal cocaine and heroin, from losing his job, joining a gang and setting up drug deals, to coming home and finding his wife and children had left, they weren’t looking at their phones anymore.

It was when he talked about going home and finding his mother murdered on Mother’s Day — and then being charged for with the crime, almost every single Holloway student in the gym was leaning forward, waiting for the next chapter.

“They were hanging on every word,” Holloway Principal Sumatra Drayton said.

DeLeon illustrated very point in his life when he had to made a choice — and how he usually made the wrong ones. DeLeon said three polygraph tests cleared him of his mother’s murder, but he pleaded to a lesser charge so he would not have to face a 30-year sentence. After being released, he was in a terrible accident and his doctors prescribed numerous barbiturates and opiates, and DeLeon found himself battling addiction again.

“In six months, I went to 67 doctors,” he said. “I got 5,000 pills.”

He found himself running with a gang and selling drugs again. When one gang member stole some of the drugs, DeLeon was accused, and saw his fellow gang members hold guns to the heads of his daughter and his wife. When the man who did take the drugs was confronted and confessed, DeLeon witnessed his execution.

He was charged with that murder as well, even though he only watched it happen. That was later dismissed, but he went back to prison on violation of probation charges. After spending years in jail, he told the teens, he was finally able to see the bad choices he had made and decided never to make them again. He also vowed he would help others learn to make better choices.

“I go into schools, juvenile detention centers, jails,” he said. “Nobody thinks they’re growing to grow up to be an addict. Nobody thinks they’re going to go to prison. I didn’t. Use high school, use this experience, make better choices.”

DeLeon will be presenting another program Thursday at the Recover Rutherford Town Hall meeting on the rise of heroin use.

“That’s for the parents and the educators,” DeLeon said. “It’s about recognizing the signs and symptoms, and looking for solutions.”

DeLeon is one of several presenters scheduled for the event at Lane Agri-Park at 6:30 p.m.

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