What We Do

The Problem
Today there exists an ever-increasing need to reach the youth of our cities and communities. With school violence and bullying, escalating drug and alcohol use by teens, accelerating recruitment into gangs by older youth, random acts of violence and subsequent societal pressure to punish youth as adults, children and young adults need a constant and profound message delivered to them from experienced and caring messengers.

Steered Straight meets that need.

There is a great deal of empowerment taking place that young men and women aren't tapping into. That is where we try to go with our speeches, workshops, and seminars. The presenters are ex-offenders who all deliver a positive and powerful message of consequence. They show the audience that what you put into life is what you get out.

We thereby create an environment where the youth will aggrandize the role models of changed citizens, rather than the self-defeating pariah that plague our schools, neighborhoods, and inner cities. Our messages help schools, law-enforcement agencies, and organizations curb the rising tide of juvenile delinquency, youth involvement in gangs, and drug and alcohol use and abuse among our youth. Further, we inform the community (youth, parents, adults, etc.) about the evils of crime, gang involvement, and life in prison.

We pledge to provide real-life and motivational messages pertaining to substance use/abuse, gang involvement, and lessons about the inevitable consequences of negative life choices. We use ex-offender men and women with powerful messages and life examples that show young adults, teens, and even children that the results of negative choices and negative peer influences can bring tragic ends.

Our use of ex-offender success stories is one of the most powerful aspects of what we do. Many of our urban youths have irrational misconceptions about prison and the criminal justice system. These misconceptions are destructive to their pursuit of a positive lifestyle. If a message of reality doesn't reach them at a young age from real messengers of hope, their fate is all but sealed because they seal it themselves with negative life choices.

They don't contemplate the inevitable consequences of rebelling against the social system. They have been brought up to see the system as their enemy, and to view a challenge to it as a badge of courage -- a rite of passage. We MUST change this misconception.

The numbers are real. You can pick up the paper to see statistics and study results about the reduction in crime and the decreases in societal problems such as teen pregnancy, teen smoking, and drug and alcohol use among adolescents.

Remarkably, each study brings counter studies and each statistic brings counter numbers that dispute the reductions. The fact of the matter is that youth incarceration is at a historic peak and climbing.

Drug and alcohol use among teens is escalating, and even though there seems to be some reduction in marijuana use, there are skyrocketing increases in the use of prescription drugs, painkillers, methamphetamine, heroin, and "club" drugs like ecstasy, GHB, and ketamine.

New Jersey and other states are locking up younger offenders at an escalating rate. The current social climate supports putting these young boys and girls in adult facilities. School violence, bullying, assaults, email threats, and sexual assaults have all seen increases since 2000.

The Solution
There are many programs that address these issues. Many are being used to preempt drug and alcohol use and criminal activity among children. Many have benefits and help bring the message of prevention and intervention.

But there are very few programs that use living examples of negative life-choices to make their point.

Some that do exist, sometimes called "speakouts", use inmates brought out of prison to show the results of crime. There is a great message in their presentation.

However, there is a missing link, especially for our urban kids that see offender after offender return home to the community only to become another tally in the recidivism statistics as they return through the revolving door. There is an inability to show the audience that there are subsequent issues when the inmate gets released.

There are many other larger issues to look at where this type of program is used, especially when they are presented to suburban school audiences. Discussions of the consequences of drug offences and criminal arrests have a measurably less enduring impact on young, white suburban kids.

Steered Straight is able to give the audience the complete picture. It supplies a "before", "during", and "after" message, because it is a complete message.

How the Message is Delivered
Steered Straight brings in four speakers, all of whom are ex-offenders, to bring a dynamic message of consequences to an audience; usually of middle-school or high-school students. We focus specifically on thinking skills, cognitive thinking with consequential processing, social competency skills, and the importance of positive influences.

We research each facility prior to the presentation, including meeting with the juvenile officers from the town, the D.A.R.E. officers, teachers, substance abuse coordinators, and kids themselves to talk about the local problems, drugs of choice, gang involvement or recruitment, hang-out spots, etc.

We then formulate a message that they can identify with, present that message in a highly dynamic fashion, and follow that up with a question and answer period. Each student benefits from a positive message and, largely because of the research that is done prior to the presentation, we are able to address personal issues that hit home with troubled students. This makes it a more personal, less generic event.

We bring literature and information about an array of topics that children and teens struggle with. This information includes material of our own, as well as educational literature from SAMHSA, the NJ Department of Health and Human Services and the NJ Department of Education. Students get the information from our program as well as educational literature to follow up that message.

We work with the teachers and program facilitators afterwards in order to get them to create some sort of writing assignments on the presentation. This enables the student to personalize the message to their own individual situations.

Then, as part of our overall program in reaching children and young adults, and to reinforce the messages in our presentations, we return to the school for class to class visits. We talk to students, teachers, and administrators to follow up our earlier efforts. It is during this phase that we discuss the results of the writing assignments just described.

We also have an important educational program that we use and distribute called the "Determination Curriculum". We employ this to teach, educate, and reinforce character, positive choices, negative consequences, and empowerment.

The Impact
We focus on codes of ethics versus the street code, and enable children -- even young children -- to switch codes from negative to positive. Even in the first through third grades, code switching is possible and critical to growing up positive in a negative environment. We see in our follow-up visits the favorable impact our program is having. This encourages us greatly, and strengthens our commitment to assisting educators and others in dissuading our youth from making negative, self-destructive choices.

Direct inquiries and comments to:
Email: michael.deleon@steeredstraight.org
Surface Mail: Steered Straight, Inc.;
P.O. Box 842
Millville, NJ 08332-0842
Telephone: (856) 691-6676