FORT MYERS, Fla.- A group of children with the LCSO Cadet program and the Young Gentlemen’s Club of Caloosa Middle School in Cape Coral walked into a jail cell for the first time in their lives on Jan. 7.
They weren’t in any trouble, but they were participants in an after school program that teaches students important values like respect, integrity, teamwork, and how to achieve your goals.
Their reactions to touring the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) of Lee County were what you might expect in a place that’s a world away from home.
“It’s not a fun place, it’s not a place where you want to be,” said 11-year-old Emily Paul.
Approximately 2,300 minors are booked into the JAC every year. Down the cold, bare halls and through a series of locked doors, the young kids learned about life on the inside.
“Everything is glorified, like they get in trouble,” said Steven Latorre, who runs the Young Gentlemen’s Club, “so I want them to see, it’s not what you’re seeing on TV, it’s not what you’re hearing. Come look and see, is this really what you want? Is this really how you want it to be?”
One look around and the group of kids quickly realized there’s no glory in the JAC, and nothing great about it.
Paul volunteered to be strapped down in what’s called a restraint chair.
“It’s very tight, you’re not gonna like it, you can’t move, and it’s basically like you’re trapped,’ said Paul.
Once a year, the groups go behind locked doors on the sobering field trip to the JAC.
“I feel it’s important that they see it,” said Latorre, who believes the key to keeping kids out of the JAC, is to show them just how bad it really is. “Maybe if they are gonna turn around and do something wrong, they’ll say, ‘wow, I remember that field trip, I remember that room, I remember that restraint chair, and I don’t want any part of it.”
Paul remembers the cramped, crowded jail cell, and how seeing it, even just one time, was enough to leave a lasting impression.
“If somebody was looking at me in there, I would be ashamed,” said Paul, “because I wouldn’t want to be in there.”