Court is real-life jolt for students Message is clear: Drugs are bad

February 07, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

A courtroom turned into a classroom last week when 60 Wilde Lake middle-schoolers came to learn first-hand how drugs and alcohol can destroy people's minds -- and their lives.

The students saw drinking and driving defendants file before District Court Judge Louis A. Becker and heard former drug and alcohol abusers tell their stories. The message was clear: drugs can break your dreams.

They did for Nick, a 25-year-old recovering drug and alcohol addict who volunteered to talk to the students, but asked that his last name not be used.

"My dream was to go to the Naval Academy or West Point, and I was on my way," he said, adding that he was then an honor student at Hammond High School. But "drugs and alcohol did to my mind what I had no control over. I paid a dear price, but it doesn't have to be that way."

Nick told the students he had tried to kill his sister's fiance in

1986 during one of his drinking binges. He was convicted of assault and battery a year later, and he spent four months in jail.

"I destroyed my dream to go to the Naval Academy," he said. "There's nothing fun about drinking or using drugs -- not at the end of the road."

Wilde Lake students were the first to take part in the "Live Your Dreams" program, sponsored by the educational partnership of the Howard County Bar Association and the school system. The goal was to show what happens to people when they use drugs and alcohol, in hopes of preventing kids from doing the same.

"Middle-schoolers are at a vulnerable age when it's important that they find out" about drugs and alcohol, said Janet E. Filtzer, bar association director.

Oakland Mills and Owen Brown middle schools as well as the Gateway School will go through a similar experience with other judges, criminal defense lawyers and county prosecutors in the next months.

Judge Becker told students that many people who come before him have problems that stem from drug or alcohol abuse.

One 22-year-old defendant who had court proceedings that day had been drinking since he was 10 years old. He was caught with LSD, 10 joints of marijuana and a case of beer.

Another defendant, Ronald E. Hardesty, 23, a college student, was charged with driving while intoxicated.

A state trooper stopped him on I-95 near Route 32 in November, when the trooper saw him weaving in and out of lanes.

Mr. Hardesty had just left a bachelor party that night. His speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and his stance was unsteady, county prosecutor Bill Tucker said. He swayed side to side as he failed his sobriety tests, Mr. Tucker said.

Mr. Hardesty was typical of many drinking and driving defendants, Judge Becker told him. "Most people standing there are not different from you. Some are older, some are younger," he said. "You'd be amazed at the number of people who went to a party and [later] said, 'I wasn't going to drive, but my friend needed a ride home,' or 'I was supposed to be a designated driver.'"

In his defense, Mr. Hardesty said: "Now I realize how the power of alcohol can disrupt my life. I didn't see alcohol as a problem, but now I see it as leading that way."

He was given a suspended one-year jail sentence, a $1,000 fine with $700 suspended and 30 days of treatment at an alcohol abuse clinic.

He also was ordered to enroll in a victim impact panel program, sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Students who attended the court session were chosen by their social studies classes and had the task of taking notes and passing along the information to their peers. They said they'll bring back good advice.

"Drugs are really bad, and the drug problem still exists," said Kim Austin, 13.

"Going to court is not a joke," said Johnathan Harvey, 14. "It's something that's very serious, but it's something that can be educational, too.

"I didn't know that much about the court and the proceedings," he said. "I'm sure everybody's going to appreciate this."

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