Prison field trip gives at-risk students a wake-up call

CINCINNATI -- Twelve girls from Mount Healthy, Aiken and Lockland High Schools got a sobering field trip Tuesday courtesy of a local non-profit, the University of Cincinnati and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.

Super Seeds, an organization dedicated to using education and understanding to sever the school-to-prison pipeline, took 14-year-old Desshell Smith and a group of her peers on a tour of their own possible futures -- one on which the first stop was the Hamilton County Jail.

The girls chosen to participate in the trip were those who, in the words of Mount Healthy school counselor Michelle Robinson, “have tons of potential but often make poor choices.” A group of boys who face the same challenges will make a similar visit in December.

"This is not a 'scared straight' program," said Major Charmaine McGuffey of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. "Nobody is yelling at them; nobody is trying to sneak up on them. It’s just a matter of being very honest."

Very honest about the fact that imprisonment can be humiliating -- Smith, a Mount Healthy student, said she was struck by inmates’ descriptions of their strict schedule and regular pat down inspections -- as well as a deeply traumatic experience for both inmates and their families.

"One of the women had babies," said Jordann Rucker, a 13-year-old Mount Healthy student. "They were only nine years old. What about the kids? I don’t want to make the same mistake."

The trip then took the group to the University of Cincinnati. For most students who participate, Super Seeds founder Candice Tolbert said, the contrast between the two places makes it clear what they want for their own futures.

"This helped me want to be on the right path,” Smith said. “Because I don’t want to be here (in jail) ever. Ever."

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