Even if you are free to leave whenever you want to, a visit to the Suffolk County correctional facility in Yaphank can be a jarring experience.
Let’s face it, jail is never a good place to be. Several dozen Huntington High School students recently visited the East End lock-up through Suffolk Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr’s Youth Enlightenment Seminar program.
Participants were students in either social studies teacher Erik Bruckbauer’s Criminal Justice class or in business teacher Suzi Biagi’s Personal Law I and II courses.
“Students have the opportunity to meet with a deputy sheriff prior to the trip and then tour the correctional facility and spend time with a select group of inmates who share their personal stories in an effort to dissuade others from getting into trouble,” Ms. Biagi said.
“Our YES program stresses education and reality,” Sheriff Toulon said. “By giving kids a realistic view of what lies ahead if they cross that line, we hope that it will leave a strong enough imprint in their minds to stop them from engaging in criminal acts.”
The YES initiative got off the ground in 2010. It is available to school groups or even parents, who accompany their son or daughter into the jail for a personal tour arranged by special appointment. The program stresses education, communication, and accountability.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Javier Serpas. That sentiment was seconded by Ms. Biagi who said many of the inmates the group met with were within the age range of the Huntington teenagers.
“It was a real eye-opener for them to hear firsthand accounts of how simply being with people who you think are your ‘friends’ can land you behind bars when you are all caught together and just one of you has done the wrong thing,” Ms. Biagi said
The YES program tour of the jail is interactive in nature as students proceed through a series of “steps” ranging from the arrest and intake process to fingerprinting and mug shots. Students met with actual inmates in a special area of the facility. Known as the “How I got to this point in my life” segment, inmates provide a description of how bad decisions can lead to arrest, conviction and a prison sentence.
“We always hope this trip helps open our kids’ eyes to the consequences for one decision gone wrong,” Ms. Biagi said. “This group of students was quite impacted.”
“It was a good learning experience,” John Caputo said. Jonathan Apelsinova echoed the thoughts of many by concluding that “jail is a bad place.”
Lorenzo Aloe said that as a result of the visit he is now thinking about a career as a correctional officer. Stephanie Wickey thought it was “interesting” to learn about the jail and its programs.
One of the sophomores on the trip cut through all the niceties and said plainly: “Jail is not a good place and it made me cry. I never want to be locked up.”