Urging youth to make the right choices

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 28, 2001

Staff Writer

Charles Henderson Middle School students learned about consequences from someone who knows.

Tommy Waites spent more than eight years in prison because he made the wrong decisions. He is now a pastor who spends a great deal of time talking to youth so they will choose a different path than the one to a penitentiary.

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"I’ve been where men and women don’t have choices," Waites told CHMS students during a special Red Ribbon Week presentation on Thursday.

He told the middle school students he came face to face with a decision between incarceration and freedom and chose the latter, reminding them "hanging with the wrong crowd" can lead to trouble.

"I had a choice 20-something years ago," Waites said of when he quit school as an 11th grade student and lived a life of crime, eventually finding himself sitting in a prison cell.

"The wisest thing you can do is not associate with those who will get you in trouble," Waites said, acknowledging the power of peer pressure. "A smart person chooses not to hang around people that will get them in trouble."

Waites thought those people he knew back in high school were his friends, but soon found out that was not the case. As he sat in prison for a crime he was urged to commit, he never got a letter or visit from any of those so-called "friends."

Since this is Red Ribbon Week, Waites urged the students to stay away from alcohol and other drugs that can lead a person to do things he or she would not ordinarily do.

"People don’t want to do good things when they’re drinking…don’t start. It can control your mind."

He also reminded them, alcohol "could cost you money, could cost your life or the life of someone you care about."

What he hopes the students will be able to do one day is stand up and say they made the right choice.

"Make your own life," Waites said, urging them to study and work hard so they can have a better future.

"I didn’t study and I’m paying for it today. If you make the right choice, you’ll always come out on top."

Waites should know. His choices caught up with him.

Waites was a football player and member of the band, but chose a life of crime and wound up spending a good part of his life behind bars.

He told the students his criminal activities, which included burglarizing homes, started as a way to impress others. But, those who dared him were not the ones caught and punished.

More than 15 years after getting out of prison, Waites encourages his daughters and the sons and daughters of many others to "do the right thing."

"Young men and women have lost their lives because of choices," Waites said. "It will benefit you to make good choices."