“Project Pride” Warns Students of ‘Poor Life Decisions’

Inmates spoke to about 200 University students and faculty about poor decision-making and provided advice to students struggling with addiction at the “Project Pride” event in Pollak Theatre on Wednesday Dec. 3.

“Listen to what they say, they are not bad people. They made mistakes,” opened Harry DeBonis, facilitator of “Project Pride” and representative of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.  He stressed that everyday people have to make decisions and that these people made poor choices that inevitably led them to prison.

“You have to ask yourself, is it worth it? It only takes one decision,” said the first speaker, Liam, who grew up in Ocean County. He explained that at the age of 11 he had lost both of his parents and his best friend, which lead to his drug use. “I didn’t want to feel the pain of losing my parents like that,” he said.

Liam stressed the fact that he was self-medicating, but was never dealing with his reality. “That was one of the worst decisions of my life, to start abusing and using drugs,” he said.

Liam then described his experience of living in prison. He stressed the fact that there is no heat and no air conditioning and said, “The roaches look like rats and the rats look like cats.” He also explained how inmates are treated. “Everyone is treated the same in prison, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from.”

“My biggest mistake was thinking nobody understood what I was going through,” said the next speaker Alyson, from Southern New Jersey. Alyson is serving a six-year sentence for killing a man while driving under the influence.

Alyson described how her father committed suicide and her favorite uncle molested her for years. “I was learning how to stuff my feelings,” she said. She also explained her need to be perfect and the affect it had on her mentality. “My self worth was suffering because I was trying to be perfect, but perfection is unattainable.”

Alyson started using drugs and drinking alcohol after her best friend died in a car accident when she was 15 years old. “When you stuff your feelings, you eventually run out of room,” she said. “I always thought that drugs were helping me deal with my problems but they were only making more.”

She then told the audience about the guilt that she has felt after killing a man while driving under the influence. “That person was somebody else’s son, husband, and father. For a long time after that I felt like I couldn’t even breathe air,” she said.

Alyson’s advice to students was to talk to somebody when they are going through something and to always remember that there are people available to help you. “Don’t be ashamed to talk to somebody,” she said.

The last speaker was Kimberly from Detroit, MI who is currently serving time for aggravated assault. Her advice for students was to always remember, “It can happen to anybody, all it takes is one choice.”

Kimberly spoke highly of her father, who recently passed away. She said she was not allowed to go to her father’s funeral because she is currently incarcerated. Kimberly shared with the audience her father’s last words of advice to her, “Opportunity shows his face through temporary defeat, pay attention to the back door.”

“I thought it was heartbreaking… she couldn’t even go to her father’s funeral all because of one mistake she made,” said Lauren Palladino, sophomore elementary education and anthropology major who attended the event. “It made me realize to be cautious of my actions and speak up if I’m ever going through something so horrible because there’s always going to be someone there to help you,” she continued.

Suanne Schaad, Substance Awareness Coordinator, planned the event along with the Substance Awareness Office. Schaad hoped that the speakers forced students to think about their actions and the consequences that they can face as a result. She said she hopes that students who attended the event can “understand that trauma can really increase risk factors for substance abuse.”

The event was cosponsored by Alpha Sigma Tau, Alpha Xi Delta, Counseling Student Association, Delta Phi Epsilon, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Kappa Psi, Delta Tau Delta, Greek Senate, HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers, Lamda Theta Alpha, Office of Substance Awareness, Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Sigma Sigma, Sigma Pi, Sigma Tau Gamma, Tau Kappa Epsilon, Theta Xi, Zeta Tau Alpha, Tau Delta Phi, and Students in Recovery.

This was the ninth year for Project Pride. “It’s become our must see event, it’s a very popular event,” Schaad said. She encouraged students in the audience to seek help if they are dealing with substance abuse at the Substance Abuse Awareness Office located at the Heath Center.

Last names of inmates have been withheld for privacy concern.