Each year since the program's inception, nearly one thousand youths and adults enter the inner sanctum of the Passaic County Jail to get a closer look and a taste of what the consequences are of making poor decisions.
The Reality Check program is designed, not so much as a "scared straight" approach, but a face-to-face experience with prisoners who "keep it real" in their presentation about how their lives and the lives of their loved ones have drastically changed as a result of bad decision making.
A tour of the facility includes inmate housing areas, a look at the kitchen, what inmates eat, how they are permitted visitors and how items of contraband are found and confiscated. For many, the tour itself leaves a lasting impression as visitors experience first-hand the rattling sounds of slamming steel gates and doors.
The visiting group is led into the Chapel where they are directly addressed by a panel of carefully selected inmates. The panel is comprised of inmates who volunteer to share their life story.
The inmates on the panel are sincere in their presentations and take this program very seriously. They believe that since they were part of the problem, they have dedicated themselves to becoming part of the solution. Holding nothing back, these prisoners almost plead with our youth not to make the same mistakes they did for the sake of peer acceptance or a lucrative lifestyle.
The inmates let the audience know that the pattern of their decision-making and criminal behavior have far reaching consequences that have altered not only their immediate lack of freedom, but their hopes of a bright future. The panel leaves participants with much to think about when they walk out the doors of the jail into a world where freedom, liberty, and all the little things in life that are so often taken for granted, are enjoyed.
The program director looks for men and women with a variety and balance of life experiences and criminal charges, those that would be most relatable to our youth. On the panel are county, state, and federal inmates whose charges range from drug offenses, robbery, prostitution, to gang-related crimes and felonies. They come from diverse backgrounds. Some come from good homes, stable families, well-educated and formerly employed in legitimate businesses. Others come from broken and poverty-stricken homes, have little education, suffered various types of abuse throughout their lives and are sadly addicted to their dependencies becoming career criminals.