The sheriff of Texas’ largest county delivered the goodwill message through a litany of hard facts about a county jail system filled with 9,000 inmates. Many suffer from mental illness, addiction or poverty.
“I want you to be successful,” he said, making eye contact with teens. “It’s important for you to have this same belief in yourself.”
Highpoint School is an alternative school for troubled teens. Local school districts contract with HCDE for services. Rules and regulations are rewarded with a point system that reinforces good behavior and adherence to academics. Emphasis is placed on improved social skills with the goal for students to return to their home schools.
Gonzalez told the teens who range in age from 13-17 to see their misfortune as opportunity.
“It’s a door opening up to you, so learn something from it,” he said. “If you continue down the path that brought you here, some will end up dead, some will end up incarcerated or in prison. Life is too short.”
As Gonzalez answered questions, a 16-year old slowly raised his hand.
“What can you do to motivate yourself?” he asked.
The sheriff confirmed the question with a nod, replying slowly with a lowered voice.
“Everyone has this little voice, and sometimes we walk up with more negative thoughts than positive,” Gonzalez said. “That voice is your subconscious. When you find yourself in a tough situation, quit digging a hole and try to get rid of those negative thoughts.”
With lunch hour approaching, the sheriff asked the teens if he might return to talk to them again. Heads nod.
“I liked it because it shows people care,” said student Joshua LaFrance. “It makes me think a little differently. It was pretty cool of him to come.”
Emily Sanchez, 14, is enrolled at Highpoint because she was involved in a fight. She sees what can go wrong if she loses her temper again. Something could happen that can’t be reversed. Incarceration could be in her future if she doesn’t gain control.
“I feel like I can change that,” she said. “It’s good he is coming here and presenting to us.”
Gonzalez thanks the teens as he leaves the room and stops to shake a few hands.
“Thank you all very much,” the Harris County sheriff said. “We’re here to help you.”
(Highpoint School provides services to students in grades 6-12 through a small, structured learning environment. The HCDE Highpoint program teaches self-discipline to help students learn to make better choices. For more information, go to www.hcde-texas.org/schools .)