Nearly 200 people on Saturday witnessed the dramatic journey of an average high school student whose drug use lands him first in jail, then in a casket as part of the Reality Tour’s stop in Fresno.
Fresno’s version of the nationwide project was hosted by Edison High School and featured performances by Edison students. It was arranged by the Fresno Police Department and the California Health Collaborative’s Performing Above the High (PATH) Project, which is funded by the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health.
“This is a huge part of our crime intervention strategy,” said Fresno police Capt. Mike Reid, who presented at the event. “Kids get an interactive look into the downside of drugs before they become involved with them.”
The event was the second one hosted by this partnership at Edison. Last year’s tour drew about 150 people. They will host another event in southeast Fresno in September.
Daisy Lopez, program manager for PATH, said the event differs from many “scared straight” programs in that it involves both parents and children. The information and dramatizations are meant to have an emotional impact and spark more conversation about drug use at home, she added.
Sharon Williams said she brought her grandchildren, 14-year-old Johnnie Wilson and 13-year-old Jamiana Deloney, to the tour because she’s seen the toll drug abuse takes on people.
“I worked in corrections for 14 years,” she said. “I wanted to keep them safe and informed. I don’t ever want them to be able to say, ‘I didn’t know’ what drugs could do.”
For Manuel Escandon, the trip served two purposes.
The first was a scouting mission. Escandon is director of student intervention and prevention at the Fresno County Office of Education, and he wanted to check out the program to see if similar ones could be implemented throughout the county.
The other reason was to educate his two daughters, Emma, 13, and Victoria, 14, about drug abuse.
The two families and dozens of others were led through Edison on a four-part tour through the perils of drug use.
A skit portrayed a party in which some students were coaxed into doing drugs, while another group left the party and invited the audience to give an emphatic “No!” response to the drug dealer’s solicitations.
Next, the group was led into a long hallway where officers stopped them. The police department had a report that someone in the group had a large amount of drugs in their backpack, the officers said, and they needed everyone to place their bags on the floor.
A K-9 unit found a bag of drugs in a blue backpack, and two parents spoke up to identify the bag as their son’s. The boy was arrested and led out of the hall, with his fictional parents yelling questions in disbelief as they followed behind.
The tour then stopped off at a room where the boy was held in a large, dramatic jail cell. A recording explained the teen’s journey from an average middle school kid to an addicted high school student who stole to support his habit and sold drugs to his friends and classmates.
The crowd was then ushered into a second room disguised as a hospital. The boy had been bailed out of jail by his parents, the recording said, but he had no intention of stopping.
The recording detailed the boy’s night out with his cousin, also a drug user.
“There were Oxycontin and Percocet — I took a whole bunch of pills,” the recorded voice said. “And then, it’s like I left my body, and it all went black.”
The boy was rushed into the room in a stretcher, where doctors attempted to resuscitate him. He died as his frantic parents entered the room.
A classroom-turned-funeral home was the final stop. A man and several teenagers in suits and dresses urged the audience members to sign the ledger as they entered the room and fixed their eyes on a fake casket decorated with flowers, a teddy bear and a framed collection of baby pictures.
The parents and friends of the recently departed teen wept and apologized to the casket. The scene drew many solemn glances and even a few tears from the audience, who were urged to touch the casket and pay their respects on the way out.
Andrew, a 17-year-old Bullard High School senior, capped off the event by telling the audience about his own experience with drugs.
Andrew said he started smoking marijuana at 12 and later moved onto Oxycontin at 14 and finally methamphetamine at 15.
“I went to inpatient rehab, but I didn’t get sober,” he said. “I didn’t want to be sober.”
Andrew was arrested at 16 and served six months at a juvenile facility, where he finally kicked his habit. He’s spent the last three months speaking at inpatient rehabilitation programs weekly, but Saturday’s event marked the first time he would ever speak about it to such a large crowd.
“I do this more for myself than others,” Andrew said. “It’s good to help people, but this is an important part of me staying sober.”
Andrew’s mother was sitting next to him near the stage.
“It was a very tough couple of years, but I’m proud of him,” she said. “It helps with the healing process, and this whole experience has grown us closer.”