Submitted by Phoenix High School
On Sept. 26, Gretrell Watkins, manager of Prison Prevention Ministries of Chattanooga, and Melissa Gustafson, counselor for Prison Prevention Ministries of Chattanooga, visited Phoenix High School (PHS) students to talk about how to make the right choices in life and the consequences of making wrong choices.
Prison Prevention Ministries serves more than 80 schools in six districts in Tennessee and Georgia.
The first speaker was Kerry Harpster, formerly of Omaha, Neb., and now of Chattanooga. Students heard Harpster speak about how her life had been a four-generation cycle of neglect, substance abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. She shared how she was finally able to break away from this cycle of abuse and become a responsible parent to her son.
Harpster told the students that the only way out of poverty is education and making the right choices. She said, “You are wonderful. You can be anything, no matter how bad it is right now. There is always hope.” Harpster stated, “God saved my life. I was a drug abuser, an alcoholic, and filled with shame about what I had done, but by the grace of God my life was saved.”
The second speaker was James Hough, who currently works as a counselor at Prison Prevention Ministries. Hough served 14 years in Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. He explained to the students how he started on his life of crime with one bad choice — the gateway drug marijuana. From that one step he was soon dealing drugs, stealing money and doing whatever it took to keep the drugs rolling.
Hough said he had good parents and family support but made the wrong choices, and therefore suffered the consequences — losing 14 years of his life. After he was released from prison and placed on probation, Hough decided that if he was to have a life free from drugs and bad influences he would have to leave behind his old life in New Jersey and start fresh. He moved to Atlanta, married, and started being the man he knew he could be — a good Christian man and a good role model for young people. He knew God had a plan for his life.
Hough told the students, “You are valuable. Each young person is valuable. Make something of yourself because no one can take it from you.” He stated repeatedly to stay away from anyone doing drugs or anything illegal: “You do not want to get caught up in the prison system.”
Additionally, he explained how easily girls are talked into drug use and encouraged them to resist peer pressure. He finished up by saying, “Stay away from any loser who just wants to pull you down. Instead, reach for your dreams and make a life that you can look back on with good memories, not regrets.”