Havelock Middle School hosts anti-drug program

Larry Lawton started his criminal career as a 12-year-old, which is about the same age as many of the students at Havelock Middle School.

Lawton, who served more than 11 years in federal prisons after being convicted as a jewel thief, was the featured speaker at an event put on by the North Carolina Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officers Association Wednesday.

The DARE organization brought 45 offices from across the state to the school as an aside to its annual training conference in Atlantic Beach.

Lawton was brought into the school’s auditorium in handcuffs and leg restraints in front of students before taking the microphone. Though his time in the penitentiary ended in 2007, Lawton still had a commanding presence with heavily tattooed arms and a shaved head.

But it was the heavy words delivered about the inside of the federal prison system that held the attention of students.

“At about 11 years old, a person starts understanding consequences,” said Lawton. “There is a difference between right and wrong and understanding consequences. A kid knows right from wrong at 5. Don’t touch the stove. It will burn your fingers, but at 5, they don’t understand what it means not to have feeling in your fingers.”

“At about 11, they understand, ‘wait a minute, if I do that, this is what will happen.’ And even me, at 12, I understood consequences, but I didn’t care. I had come from that era where I was a gangster. I was associated with the mob, the Gambinos, with John Gotti and all those guys, and I went away for four 12-year sentences. Tough time, but obviously if we can get to these kids now, we save lives, and help the police too. We help the community. Less crime. Less victims.”

Lawton had, at one point, been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but after serving his time in jail, became an author and started telling his story as a means of helping youngsters avoid the poor choices he had made.

“Life is about choices, and our youth sometimes with society, they make wrong choices – alcohol, cigarettes, stealing, cheating on a test – anything like that. We really want our students and our youth to make good life choices,” said Scott Graham, of the Wake Forest Police Department and president of the state DARE association. “As police officers, we are on the front line with that and we see the bad consequences which lead to students being suspended from school and parents being very disappointed. As police officers, I think we can make an impact in helping kids make good life choices.”

DARE is a 10-week program where police officers go into classrooms and teach lessons about bullying, saying no to drugs and making good life choices.

“It’s important for the young people,” said Sgt. Anne Groe, the DARE officer for the Craven County Sheriff’s Office. “It gives them life skills that they can incorporate and apply for their future. What we would like is for young citizens to become productive in society in the future.

“I love going into the schools and speaking with the students, hearing their stories and being able to help them achieve. We are a resource for them and we are there for these children to help them.”

Victor Steward, sixth-grader, was impressed with the program and Lawton.

“It was good because I know some kids that are making bad choices right now on the streets and this could change their lives,” said Steward. “It’s good that he took his time to come because as he said, he really didn’t have that when he was a kid, so it’s a great experience for other kids.”

Sixth-grader Gideon Spottsville agreed.

“It was heartfelt because all the kids that do drugs and stuff should know not to do them,” Spottsville said. “He was telling us his witness of the prison and how it is. I think that it was a nice message and seeing how they get tortured in jail like, that makes me not want to go to jail.”