Lit by the mellow light from a lamp and a projector, three presenters spoke to Jaclyn Lissick’s health class about some tough issues on March 22.
The presenters, whose last names were withheld at the request of the program, came as part of the Know the Truth program from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. The program began in 2006 as a way for teens and young adults to share their stories with their peers at middle schools and high schools around the state and educate them about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse.
“It’s all about busting misconceptions,” said Sadie Holland, prevention education manager at Know the Truth.
Often students start small and will justify their decision, Holland said, but often they don’t have all the information. The peer-to-peer format of the program allows young people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and addiction to share their personal stories and be vulnerable.
Not every student is going to relate to stories about meth addiction, Holland said, but “emotional trauma, loss of identity, peer pressure — these are things that everyone deals with.”
Jacob, one of the presenters at Shakopee West Middle School, described a cycle of peer pressure growing up.
“I was always trying to up the ante,” he said, explaining how his substance abuse escalated. “I wasn’t getting in the trouble I should have been getting in at the start.”
Once he did get arrested, Jacob was regularly in and out of jail.
“It sounds really dumb from the outside, but when you’re in that cycle it’s really hard to get out of.”
Another presenter, Alex, struggled to find friends while moving frequently throughout his childhood. He was arrested for having alcohol when he was 12 years old, and was using meth steadily by 15. He quit drugs after the birth of his child, trying to improve his life for his family, but relapsed.
“Within a year and a half, everything I had was gone,” Alex said.
Both presenters emphasized how hard it was to break out of old patterns.
Deaths of loved ones sent Jacob into a tailspin.
“I never knew how to grieve,” he said.
He ended up facing a lengthy prison sentence.
“I was in jail with no hope. My best offer was 10 years.”
Things changed, Jacob said, when he found out about Teen Challenge.
“The judge took a chance on me,” he said. The program has given him a new perspective and restored relationships.
“Teen Challenge has absolutely saved my life,” he said.
Teen Challenge is a 13-month-long live-in program, and when participants reach a certain point in their rehabilitation they can volunteer to present at schools with Know the Truth.
Casey, who addressed some of the misconceptions about common gateways to drug use like marijuana and vaping, said, “Teen Challenge saved my life, but working for Know the Truth gave me purpose.” She speaks at schools every day, and has developed a natural presence in front of the students.
Though the stories and messages about substance abuse were cautionary, the talk ended on a note of hope.
“I get to be a father to my daughter. I get to be a son to my mother,” Alex said of his recovery.
The speakers left with pieces of advice for the students.
“When you’re struggling, talk to someone,” Alex said.
“Don’t grieve so much over everything you’ve lost that you lose everything you have,” Jacob added.