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Teacher takes students to prison to show consequences of crime

Published Oct. 16, 2005

The jeers and catcalls of inmates were familiar sounds to teacher Bill Milton as he led another group of students through Marion Correctional Institution. The Jacksonville Raines High School history teacher has been leading prison tours for about six years, encouraging students to stay in school and stay out of prison.

"The ones that will probably end up here _ it doesn't affect them that much. But the ones that seem a little wary, those are the ones I think will make it," the 53-year-old teacher said.

Milton schedules the tours two to four times a year. He also voluntarily takes students on Friday and Saturday nights to Jacksonville's jails.

The tours are part of Milton's law studies class, which educates students about how laws are made and enforced. But the tours have the dual purpose of showing students crime's consequences.

"It'll be an experience I'll never forget," said 18-year-old Marion Mobley, as he passed a group of inmates who made lewd comments about him. "I feel like I'm on another planet and the prisoners are the aliens."

Darrick Latimer, 17, said he thought the tour would affect people who are teetering between committing a crime or staying straight.

"I know I wouldn't want to be with people like this," he said.

As the teen-agers trooped across the grounds, a young man in a prison uniform approached Milton and greeted him quietly.

Dwayne Golden, 23, a former student at Raines, is serving a 15-year sentence for second-degree murder at the same place he once toured with the teacher.

"Stay straight. Just stay straight," Golden told Milton's students. Away from the group, Golden said he was embarrassed about talking to the students.

"I did the tour back in '84. I was just like them then _ I thought I'd never be here," he said. "I just made some bad decisions. And that peer pressure _ that peer pressure is something."

Golden's face brightened as he talked about Milton.

"I always thought Mr. Milton was a different kind of teacher. I thought he cared about his students. You feel like, even after you leave, you can talk to him," he said.

Milton said he has no grand illusions about what he can accomplish through prison tours or talks with his students.

"I don't think I'm going to change the world, but I might help this individual or that individual. I just remembers the teachers I had, the ones that helped me," said Milton, who has taught for 27 years, 19 of them at Raines.

Although he proudly mentions the students that became doctors and lawyers, he also speaks of students who have run into trouble.

"It hurts. But like any parent, I see something different in them," he said.

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