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Making the choice to stay sober: Alternative school students get lesson on effects of addiction


Destanee Barker, 15, tries to grab a basket while wearing

Destanee Barker, 15, tries to grab a basket while wearing "drunk goggles" Thursday during a Red Ribbon Week demonstration at Lowndes Alternative School. Destanee is the daughter of Tasha Barker of Columbus. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Arleen Weatherby with Community Counseling Services speaks to Lowndes County Alternative School student Thursday about the dangers of drug addiction and ways to get help.

Arleen Weatherby with Community Counseling Services speaks to Lowndes County Alternative School student Thursday about the dangers of drug addiction and ways to get help.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff



Isabelle Altman



Fifteen-year-old Destanne Barker's vision was blurry. She had been instructed to throw a ball into a basket only a few feet away, but there appeared to be three different baskets. 


She wasn't drunk -- she was wearing Fatal Vision goggles, which simulate drunkenness to demonstrate how vision and balance are impaired when someone is inebriated -- at a Red Ribbon Week event Community Counseling Services sponsored Thursday at the Lowndes County Alternative School. 


"You couldn't see (anything)," she said. "It was just so blurry." 


Barker's adventure with the goggles was part of a panel of law enforcement officers and counselors, along with a few citizens who have struggled with drug addiction, all of whom spoke with Barker and her classmates about drugs and alcohol.  


Prevention specialist Arleen Weatherby of Community Counseling Services organized the event. 


"We have students who have been placed here because of drug violations they've caused at school," counselor Yvonne Henley said. "We just thought this would be a way to reach them as well as to hopefully deter others from causing the same problems in the future. We wanted it to be a deterrent as well as a healing process for those who are being punished, so to speak, by being at the alternative school." 


Students submitted questions to the panelists ranging from how long marijuana stays in a smoker's body to the effects of energy drinks. They asked about specific drugs like flakka, a extremely deadly synthetic drug laced with the opioid fentanyl, and what kind of trouble someone could be in if they were caught with drugs. 


That was where Columbus Police Department Assistant Chief Fred Shelton and Mississippi State University Police Department Officer Emitt Johnson came in. 


"We've had incidents on campus where we've caught students with alcohol or maybe certain pills or marijuana or whatever the situation may be," Johnson said. "You've got to deal with being arrested by the police, embarrassment. You've got to deal with going to jail, having to bond out, dealing with lawyers. ... Just the incident of you being pulled over for underage drinking, you're looking at a couple thousand dollars getting clear of that." 


Johnson added they may also have to perform community service and face prison time for some felonies. 


He and Shelton later said officers are trained to look for signs people are drunk or high -- red eyes, dilated pupils or sweating. 


All that sounded familiar to principal Antonio Mogee, who used to be a narcotics officer in northern Mississippi. 


"I could relate, especially the officers, about what the effects are and using drugs," he said. "And I think it got the students' attention when they started talking about when the law enforcement gets involved because I saw the reactions of our students' faces. Their (faces were) astonished. Like, 'Oh, I can get in trouble.'" 




Recovering from addiction 


But just as important to the students were the panelists who had been on drugs before and kicked that addiction. 


One such panelist was Nathan Mordecai, a Columbus native. When he was in high school, he started smoking marijuana recreationally. 


"I did it on the weekends," he said. "I thought alcohol was fun. It was what the 'cool' kids did." 


He later suffered a sports injury and was prescribed medication to which he became addicted. 


"There was a line somewhere in there, and once that line was crossed, there was no coming back without seeking help," he said. 


The New Hope High School baseball player lost his scholarship and was eventually arrested by CPD -- multiple times, he said. His life had become "unmanageable," so he sought help from Community Counseling Services' rehabilitation center, The Pines and Cady Hills. 


"It took me making that choice, making up my mind this is not how I want to live anymore," he said. "And today, y'all do have a choice. 


"If I go back out and leave here today and do drugs again, I don't have a choice anymore," he added. "That's the bad thing about addiction. You have a choice right now while you're clean and sober and in your right mind, but once (you're addicted) ... you can't just turn it off." 


For Henley, stories from panelists like Mordecai were an important part of the program, especially for students who are at the Alternative School because of drugs. 


"It is good to see someone who has been there and now they're recovering," Henley said. "I think that's the best lesson. That gives them hope."




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