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'I Had a Bad, Nasty Attitude. I've Calmed Down Now'

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Laura is 17 years old, delicate in appearance, and the product of a comfortable Manhattan home. She attended a Pennsylvania boarding school where, as she tells it, few tabs were kept on students and "practically everybody was getting high."

By the 9th grade, Laura's drug use was extensive enough to have eroded her previously good academic standing. She was forced to repeat that grade, but by the end of the year the school sent her home permanently.

When her alarmed parents learned about the drug-abuse programs offered by The Phoenix House, they brought Laura to the John F. Kennedy High School in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., for help.

"The first couple of months were sort of hard," Laura recalls. Eventually, though, she responded well to the staff members' com-mitment and concern. She began to accept guidance and meet the school's strict expectations.

Laura will graduate this year, having experienced the high of accomplishment. While at school, she taught dance to her peers and formed a career goal: to be a make-up artist.

Escape From Home, School

Jeanette, who is now 20, grew up not far from Laura, but in a completely different environment. Living on New York's notorious Lower East Side, she fell victim to experiences that have become a grim commonplace among urban youths involved with drugs.

Jeanette disliked school. Teachers, she believed, "were only there to get paid."

Her escape from a troubled home and a disappointing school life was ''getting high on the8streets--doing bad things on the streets. I started shooting up."

Ultimately, she dropped out of school altogether and sold drugs to support her habit.

Jeanette's mother had her arrested last year as a "person in need of supervision." She was sent to Yorktown Heights, a place she "didn't really want to be," but one that has provided, over the last 15 months, a certain solace and sense of self.

"At first, I had a bad, nasty attitude," says Jeanette. "I would tell anybody off. I've calmed down now."

Her behavior change resulted partly from confrontations with her peers over her "attitude" during group sessions. "I got tired of it," she says, "and I started to change."

Jeanette says she hopes to work with computers after she graduates this year.--bh

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