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Signs made by students promoting positive choices hang in the main lobby of Taconic High School in Pittsfield as part of the school’s Open Your Eyes program.
Thursday November 15, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- On Wed nesday morning, Billy Jones and Dan Landry did something they never got to do when they were younger: Go to high school.

Both ex-convicts visited Taconic High School to meet a group of seniors and sophomores and share their stories of how peer pressure, drug use and struggles at home led to them flunking the seventh grade, and how a series of poor decisions eventually led them to prison.

Today, the men are both living more healthy, productive, crime-free lives. Part of their turnaround process is participating in a program called Open Your Eyes.

Open Your Eyes is a component of the "Juvenile Issues" course offered at Taconic through its Human Services Academy. It aims to help students transition from their teen years into adulthood and prepare them socially for life after high school.

Dan Keegan, a Taconic social studies teacher who teaches a course called Juvenile Issues, said students thought it would be good to interact with the inmates after a tour of the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction last year.

"So we explored the idea of having recently released in mates coming into the school to talk about the mistakes they made, their decisions and how they’ve changed," Keegan said.

Frank Busener, a reintegration officer for the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, said he was immediately able to garner a pool of inmates and parolees, both men and women, who wanted to share their stories with students.

"I think for [them] it’s part of the recovery process," said Busener.

"I think what young people do today does have an affect on what their outcomes are tomorrow," he added.

For Dan Landry, the goal of sharing his story is to "bring people information, because maybe it will help them change their mind."

During an approximately 90-minute program on Wed nesday, Landry and Billy Jones shared their lows: Leaving school and spending multiple years in jail on drug and theft charges; losing touch with and feeling like a burden on family members; being homeless and living under porches; and missing out on basic freedoms such as showering, eating, and socializing by their own means and schedules.

They also shared their newfound highs, such as not being behind bars and staying out of trouble.

"When I was younger, I wanted to be accepting, I wanted to be loved, I wanted to be a part of something. I knew right from wrong. But so often in my life, I went against myself," said Jones.

In the past couple of years, Jones has learned to play piano. He said he’s become more accustomed to thinking and acting for people beyond himself.

"I took a lot from society. Today, I have an opportunity to give back. It’s not going to change what I took, but it’s a start," he said.

Landry said he is also gaining steady ground.

"Now, at age 45, I have a relationship, I have a job and a house. But I’m playing catch up from all those years I missed," he said.

He encouraged the Taconic students to make the time now to find the resources they need to have a more positive and successful future than his own.

"If something ain’t right at home or in your life, ask for help. There’s no shame for that. The only shame is not asking for help," he said. "You guys are in school today. How awesome is that? You can do things."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink