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'Don't Come Back'

Prison Visit Gets Students Thinking About Choices, Consequences

March 4, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer

Before walking through the metal detector, the 12 teenagers nonchalantly stripped off their hoop earrings, gold chains and watches. They seemed unfazed as they entered the big prison hallway, a door locking behind them.

The tension built in their faces as they left the visitors' room. Correction officials led them into empty prison cells, wet shower stalls and game rooms at Cheshire Correctional Institution.

Then they were ushered past rows of occupied cells, inmates staring through small windows cut into the doors. Someone whistled and the teens picked up their pace.

For these students in the "Law and You" social studies class at Hartford Public High School, their time at the prison Friday was just a visit, during which two inmates told them bluntly, "Don't come back."

"It's about the choices you make," said Hartford Police Community Service Officer Jim Barrett, who coordinated the field trip. Barrett created the Choices program with teachers, counselors and correction officials so that young people can learn about the consequences before they do something that might land them behind bars for real.

The outing seemed fun for some of the students until they came face to face with Anthony Small and Edward Brantley.

Brantley, 48, who has served 28 years of a life sentence for robbery, kidnapping and murder, said the youngest inmates are raped, beaten and raped again. "When you come to prison, expect people will take the shine off of you. Ain't nothing pretty in prison."

Imagine a life without cellphones and Game Boys, living in a cell with "booty bandits, gang members and people who will kill you and take your life," Brantley said.

Brantley knows. He wasn't a murderer when he was convicted in his 20s on kidnapping and robbery charges. But when another inmate beat him up and tried to rape him, he said he stabbed the man 20 times. "I've killed two times since I've been in prison," Brantley said.

Brantley urged the youths not to take their lives for granted.

Small told them not to laugh about his story even if they thought something was funny. "You in jail right now!"

He was not a bad guy, Small said; he had just hung out with the wrong crowd. A high school graduate who attended college for two years, he is now serving 45 years because he was with some drug dealer friends who shot and killed two people.

"I would ride with them to pick up cocaine," Small said. Before he knew it, he had "sold out" his future. "I went to jail and I didn't shoot nobody. ... How did I get from college to running gangs ... [to] the biggest [high security] prison in Connecticut? I got deeper and deeper."

As he walked around the room, Small sized up his audience. He homed in on 16-year-old Wanda Benitez, wearing gold rings, necklaces, tight jeans and nice shoes. "I grow girls like you," Small said, "till I own your whole family."

Small said men prey on girls who like jewelry and nice clothes, buying them luxuries but never asking for sex. After a while, the girls will do anything they want, Small warned them.

After the visit, just about everyone declared that they'd never be an inmate. "It's not what they said that was scary," said 17-year-old Shamia Simmons. "It was knowing that they got life and they don't care."

Still, the visit gave Alysha Otte, 17, something to think about.

"It opened my eyes to everything they are going through. Their freedom was left at the door. One of those cells is as big as my bathroom. It would absolutely drive me crazy. I just couldn't do it."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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