Story and photos by Lt. Bill Davis, Bossier Sheriff’s Office
Most school field trips involve exploring and learning, but not usually going to prison.
But that’s just what happened to more than four dozen Bossier Parish high school juniors recently when they visited the Bossier Parish Maximum Security Facility and Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Training Academy in Plain Dealing.
“Coming out here with the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office is absolutely phenomenal,” said Lisa Johnson, president of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a true eye-opener for our students to see what goes into taking care of the public and providing that security.”
Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington hosted the 48 high school juniors from all Bossier Parish Schools in the Bossier Youth Leadership program, a partnership between the Bossier Chamber of Commerce and Bossier Parish School Board. Each month, the students learn various aspects of the make-up of a society and how they can become future community leaders. Today’s lesson was on how law enforcement officers are trained and what life is like behind bars.
“It really showed me what law enforcement is about, and it showed behind the scenes of what not everybody knows about our law enforcement,” said Madelynn Lowrie from Haughton High School.
Sandy Franks is the BYL Law Enforcement Session planner, and she has been coordinating this session for about 10 years. She says the students learn as a citizen how they should interact with law enforcement, as well as how they can assist officers in the community.
“This is not television,” she emphasized. “This is the real-life thing, and it’s good for them at their age to understand that and learn from this experience.”
BYL has been around for nearly 25 years, and through the years of the program, learning about law and order is always a highlight. “They always love our law enforcement and government session,” exclaimed Johnson.
The visit also gives the students an appreciation for what law enforcements officers do.
“To find out their job is pretty important and the weight that they have to carry for the whole city and parish, that’s a pretty tough job,” said Chapple.
Lowrie agreed. “That seems like a tough job, and they have to be really tough to do that.”
Lt. Sarah Rhodes is an instructor at the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Training Academy.
“We love having them,” she said. “They’re a good group of kids. We want them to take away that Sheriff Whittington and the Bossier Sheriff’s Office value them…we value them as teenagers, we value their input, and we want to invest in their life.”
Maj. Bruce Teutsch is the director of the academy. He first spoke to the students and emphasized the importance of continuing your education, while learning as much about all aspects of life. One unique thing the students learned was in touring the impressive Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, simply known as MRAP. It’s a specially-outfitted vehicle that protects law enforcement officers is a highly-volatile environment, while also protecting innocent victims, such as in a hostage situation.
Some of the students also donned the ‘drunk goggles’ to help them have a sense of being impaired. Even the simple game of catch appeared pointless as they experienced what it felt like to be intoxicated. A simple toss and catch without the goggles is child’s play, but it became another story when they put the googles on, and impairment heightened. It’s all in an effort to help the young students understand the importance of quality public service and compliance with the law.
“Number one, we’re on their side,” said Lt. Rhodes. “We’re here to help them. We train every single day to make sure we can give them the best service and best protection that we possibly can here in Bossier Parish.”
The group visited the Bossier Parish Maximum Security Prison where they learned everything from booking, intake, finger printing, jail rules and regulations, meals, and all aspects of life behind bars. Corrections Lieutenants Mark Lyons and Jason Porter presented a good overview of life in the jail, and they split the boys and girls to experience the different living areas.
When high school students tour a jail facility like the Bossier Max, they learn about law enforcement and the corrections setting, and it surely is an eye-opening experience. It can also be a life-changer as well.
“This experience taught to be a better leader because I don’t want people in jails, and with me being a leader, people will follow me, so if I do the right thing, so will they,” said Chapple.
The students were able to hear directly from inmates who told them their story and why it’s important to walk the straight and narrow in order to keep from going to jail.
“To some of them, it’s very surreal,” said Lt. Rhodes. “They don’t really know what jail’s like. They’ve seen it on TV, they’ve heard people talk about it, but they really don’t know what it’s really like until they walk through those doors next door…and it can be life-changing for some people.”
Young Lowrie knows jail is not a place she wants to be. “Make smart choices, that’s the first thing I thought about. Because you don’t want to end up here.”
Chapple, a school athlete, says he has a message for his other classmates.
“I’m 16, I play football, basketball, and I run track, and the number one thing I’m going to tell all my friends is make sure to make the right decision at all times.”
BYL hosts about eight other sessions throughout the school year that help to develop each student’s leadership abilities, to include Quality of Life, Government, Social Services, Education and Economic Development.