Ex-convict shares gripping story with teens

By Roslyn Giles  - email | bio

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - She's an ex-convict, former drug addict and dealer turned motivational speaker who uses her real-life story to convince teens about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.   Janice Johnson of Greenville, Mississippi, says it wasn't a lack of confidence or low self-esteem that led her to use street and prescription drugs.

"My father broke my heart when he left my mother for someone else.   When my mother took him back, I looked at her as a weak woman and because of my twisted thinking; I decided that I would be in control of my life and do whatever I wanted to do."

Johnson's frame of mind led her to make several bad decisions.  "I was still making what kind of choices? Bad Choices, smoking, popping pills and huffing," says Johnson as she spoke to a room full of sixth graders during the Drug Free You and Me Conference at the Columbus Trade Center Thursday.

Johnson started experimenting with nicotine at age 13, then alcohol and by age 19, speed while she was in college.

"I was the one who had to stand in front of the judge and receive that five year prison sentence." Johnson passionately told the youngsters that as she was on the phone setting up a drug deal when officers barged in her home and confiscated large amounts of drugs—some of which had been unknowingly planted by other dealers as part of a set-up.

Johnson says that arrest led her to spend the next five years at Julia Tutwiler Correctional Facility in Wetumpka, Alabama.

"I watched my husband die, saying baby I'll be home. I watched my son behind one choice shot paralyzed in his senior year of high school.  I watched me throw away my life or some of my dreams when I knew better."

Her gripping story is having a tremendous impact on the students.  Johnson says if see can help just one student stay on the right path, she feels she is making a difference.

"I think it has an impact. It makes you think Wow; that could happen to me," says Cierra Comer, Fort Middle School.

Richard Vale, Double Churches Middle School adds, "If drugs can affect all these people so much, I shouldn't take them."

Johnson says she wants to warn everyone that has an ear about the dangers of drugs.  According to Dr. J.B. McBride, coordinator for the conference says due to federal cutbacks, this may be the last year the program can bring in Johnson and other speaker.  The grant writing process is being changed to "discretionary grants" which in 2011 will force schools to compete for the money that's been freely given for the past 20 years 

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