Inmates tell Montville students bad choices have consequences

Montville - The paperwork involved with bringing two convicted felons into a public school was daunting, said Montville High School teacher George Dawe.

But on Wednesday morning, cellmates from the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center stood before an auditorium of eighth-graders at Tyl Middle School.

Eighth grade was the year that Kyle Neri, now in his 40s, started smoking marijuana. By his senior year of high school, he was using cocaine. And after a general honorable discharge from the Army, he began dealing it.

The Tyl students listened attentively as Neri and his friend Chris Wojcik, an OxyContin addict who robbed three drug stores, described their crimes and life in jail. The more curious students timidly raised their hands and asked about life in prison.

Their questions ranged from "Can you make money in jail?" to "What happens when you get sick?" to "Do you know anyone who has been raped in prison?"

Dawe has arranged for his high school students to meet inmates in the past, but this is the first year he's also asked the prisoners to talk to middle-schoolers. He said he's been noticing kids getting into trouble at younger ages and hopes the inmates will have an impact on them.

Neri and Wojcik also spoke at the high-school - first to a larger group, then to 10 students classified as "at risk." The two men volunteered for the talk, and Dawe has invited them back next year.

"If I can help anybody not make the mistakes I made, it's worth it," Neri said.

The two answered each student's question frankly, even telling gruesome stories of prison violence.

"I've seen people's whole heads split open for a 20 cent box of soup," Neri said. A few weeks ago, he said, one prisoner poured a boiling mixture of water and oil on another's face while he slept.

Wojcik struggled to explain what led him to rob drug stores through drive-through windows while under the influence.

"I was so desperate and so sick. … You need (OxyContin) like you need air," he said. "I couldn't rationalize decisions in the way a normal person would."

He said he didn't realize how clouded his thinking was until he went through withdrawal in jail, a painful process. "Detoxing is like your skin being peeled off your body," he told students.

Neri said that using drugs gave him "tunnel vision," leaving him constantly searching for more. After four years in prison, he escaped from the halfway house he was placed in and got involved with drugs again. That landed him five more years in Corrigan-Radgowski.

When you're addicted to cocaine, "you don't care about any consequence," Neri explained

Throughout the presentation, he made many references to his 3-year-old daughter and how it hurt to miss milestones like her first steps. When a student asked what he'd do first after getting out, his immediate response was, "Hug my daughter."

Still, when asked if he thought he'd ever get back on drugs, he admitted that he can't think that far into the future.

"Never is not a word for me," he said. "Today, I'm going to do what I can to get to tomorrow."

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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