Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Troubled teens learn of life's realities in Juvenile Diversion Program's Shock Education program

TAMPA — Two dozen teens sat in Courtroom 8. The two brothers had been charged with battery. Another boy had resisted arrest. Still others were there for domestic violence, armed robbery or other offenses.

Their paths downtown to the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse varied, but they were all there for essentially the same reason: They were given a second chance.

Instead of jail time or probation, they were allowed to attend a six-week program designed to show teens how their actions could lead down a dark, dangerous path. Shock Education is part of the county's Juvenile Diversion Program and is designed to do more than scare delinquents straight.

"It's kind of a support group," said coordinator Maggie Pines. "Just kind of open that door, getting them to think about their choices."

Since 1995, the program, which accounts for a fraction of the program's $405,000 budget, has exposed troubled teens from all over Hillsborough to real-life situations. Boys and girls, ages 12 to 18, are referred to the program by different agencies — juvenile court, probation offices, Department of Children and Families, school resource officers and parents.

During the program, the teens are separated by gender and attend various sessions that cover a range of topics, from gun violence to sex. In one class, an HIV-positive couple — the husband has AIDS and the wife has HIV — talks about sexual responsibility.

"It's just getting them to think," Pines said. "To stop and think how it's going to affect them, their families."

Shock participants meet teen mothers at Tampa General Hospital. They talk to grieving parents at funeral homes. They hear from those who have been convicted of crimes from drug possession to manslaughter. Convicts tell them what it's like to be in prison.

Participants, many of whom declined to tell their names, seemed grateful for the chance to trade probation or stiffer punishment for the educational program. Participants are only given one chance. If they offend again, they can't re-enroll in the Shock program and must serve their punishment.

On a recent day in Courtroom 8, 22-year-old Andrew Pitti told participants about his experience serving six months in prison.

"I've seen people get beat so bad they actually defecated on themselves," Pitti said.

Guards are there to protect inmates, he said, but they can't protect them all the time.

It's part of Pitti's probation to talk to the youths about his mistakes. He hopes they're really listening.

"I don't want a kid to go through the same thing I had to go through," he said. "I wish it would change someone's life."

Pitti was arrested in 2004 on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to arrest records. He then violated his probation five times and spent six months in prison, plus three years on house arrest. He will be on probation until 2012.

John Templeton Jr. also hoped his story would resonate with the boys. He has made his speech many times, but the story still haunts him.

"I didn't think the choices I was making would affect my life," he told the teenagers.

In 2002, Templeton was charged with DUI manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Julie Buckner. After a night of drinking in Ybor City, Templeton was intoxicated and driving north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 275. He hit Buckner head-on, the impact ejecting her from the car.

"I was praying that somebody was going to tell me this wasn't true," he said.

Buckner died at the scene. Templeton was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. He later pleaded guilty to a DUI manslaughter charge and spent nine months behind bars. He will be on probation until 2017. His license has been revoked for life.

He was also sentenced to work 1,000 hours in community service. He finished those hours in 2006, but still shares his story with youths, hoping to keep them away from the mistakes he made.

"This is your second chance," he told the group.

Dennis Johnson, 18, one of the program's participants, agrees. He said listening to the men's experiences was "creepy."

"I learned my lesson," he said.

Amy Mariani can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or

Troubled teens learn of life's realities in Juvenile Diversion Program's Shock Education program 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  2. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  3. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot


    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of
  4. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  5. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]