After 12 years in school, they finally went on a field trip that was unforgettable.
Last week, several young men at McDuffie Achievement Center went to Augusta State Medical Prison, where they were taken on a tour and got to talk with prisoners.
"That field trip will affect a lot of my decisions for the rest of my life," said Jacobe Collins, a senior at MAC.
Most students at the alternative school are there either for credit recovery because they are behind academically, or as a result of tribunal disciplinary action. Detric Jones, MAC security officer, said the field trip to the prison is "a reality check" to teach responsible decision making and show how choices made early in life affect one's entire life.
Dominique Rodgers, also a senior, said he was affected by one of the prisoners he talked to who had been in and out of prison since he was 14-years-old. The prisoner was covered with tattoos to camouflage his pain and scars, and was on constant medication to prevent self-mutilation.
"It wasn't like I expected," Dominique said. "I thought it would be like on TV, but it was more hard-core. It's not the place I want to wake up to every day."
Because the field trip was previously scheduled, it unintentionally took place the morning after the recent execution of a prisoner at the Georgia State Prison. As a result, all prisons were on heightened security.
"Everybody was walking around with long chains and handcuffs," Jacobe said. "They had no freedom. I mean, they couldn't even stretch if they wanted to. I wouldn't want to go through it."
Jacobe said he talked with some prisoners who had family members that had died while they were serving their time. The prisoners regretted not being able to spend time with their family members and would never have the opportunity to make that up.
"It made me feel different," Jacobe said. "When I went home, I was happy that I get to see my family anytime I want to."
Neal Kendrick, another senior who went on the trip, said not only did it make him appreciate his family, but he learned the importance of respecting his mother and authority figures.
"Respect will take you a long way," he said. "I don't usually like to listen. But, I'm going to have to listen, or I'll end up in a pine box or a cell like (the prisoners) did."
Mr. Jones said a freshman was taken on the field trip who was at MAC for disciplinary trouble. The three seniors who participated in the interview with The McDuffie Mirror were at MAC for credit recovery. Mr. Jones felt they could benefit from the field trip because they were at a point in their life where they were faced with decisions, such as whether or not to finish school. He said many MAC students come from homes where they are unsupervised, have little positive interaction with adults, or are heavily influenced by their peers.
"It made me want to be more wise and watch who I hang with," Dominique said.
"After that, anything that seems wrong, I'm going to just walk away from it," Jacobe said.
Mr. Jones encouraged the students that the best way to avoid "anything that seems wrong" was to focus on getting their diploma and then going to college. All three nodded in agreement.
"If he'd given us a speech, I would've gone home and thought nothing of it," Neal said. "But going and seeing it, I got it. It definitely made an impression. ... If this school wasn't here, there would be a lot more kids on the street getting into trouble."