By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — Judge David Overstreet challenged young minds at Casey Middle School on Wednesday to make good choices so they don't end up seeing him in court.
A Power Point presentation made possible through the Illinois Judges Association, Overstreet's theme was "Seven Reasons to Leave the Party."
"When someone your age or a little bit older comes into the courtroom it's too late," Overstreet said. "We as judges sometimes feel like coroners or pathologists and not doctors. You've heard of preventative medicine; this is our effort at preventative law."
Overstreet said students usually fall into four categories: those pledging not to drink or drive, those undecided, those who have to pay consequences before they change their behavior, and repeat offenders.
For those in the first group, Overstreet applauded their decision, adding it's important for them to hear the presentation so they can relay it to their friends.
"As you get older and your teachers and parents have less influence over you … the person who is going to have the most impact is the one on your left or right. It's important that you have a good influence over your friends," he said.
For those in the last group, Overstreet said "they are unable to see five seconds into the future or remember anything five seconds in the past."
He added, "Let's know each other socially, let's not know each other from being in court."
Overstreet detailed the seven reasons to leave a party, including death, having a criminal record, breaking the trust of parents and others, not having free time, getting no privacy, having no money, and having no vehicle.
Overstreet produced an example of how a wrong decision can lead to death, citing a 16-year-old male youth who took two female friends out in the country and attempted to go 60 mph around a dangerous curve. One of the passengers was ejected to her death, and the other was crippled. The male driver walked away.
"He's got to live with that the rest of his life, the fact that he caused one of his friends to die," Overstreet said.
As for criminal records, Overstreet said many teens don't realize when they commit crimes at an early age, those offenses can haunt them later in life — using an example of a male subject who wanted to be an FBI agent, but when a background check was completed, it was discovered the man had committed a petty offense at an earlier age that prevented him from joining the Bureau.
Students seemed to be most impressed by Overstreet's "no privacy" comment when he told them drug offenders are required to take a drug test, which requires urinating in front of a police officer or probation department employee.
He also pointed out those caught with alcohol have to wait a minimum of one year before driving privileges are reinstated.
Volunteer students were invited to participate in a "walk and turn" test, with assistance from Officer Page of the city police department, to determine sobriety. Using goggles and glasses to throw the students off, several of them demonstrated how several drinks can impair coordination and judgment.
Finally, Overstreet cautioned the students to not use methamphetamine.
"It's so addictive that if you try it one time you're addicted," the judge said. He used several before and after photographs of criminals who had used meth to drive home the point, and concluded his presentation with photographs of an individual who had been disfigured as a result of being involved in a meth-related fire.
"Some decisions people make are irreversible," Overstreet stressed. "They may not always end in death, but they can be life-changing."
Overstreet challenged the students to sign a contract between them and their parents that allows kids to call their parents when they get in rough situations involving alcohol and drugs. Parents must agree to pick their children up at a designated location and not ask questions about how the situation evolved.
"Act as if what you do makes a difference because it does," Overstreet concluded.