Visiting a real jail and seeing how it works proved to be eye-opening for Ark-La-Tex area students, as Lt. Bill Davis of the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office explains:

“Just to visit…definitely a place I just want to visit!  I do not want to live here!” That’s how Benton High School junior Ta’mya Davis expressed her experience after touring a jail facility in Plain Dealing Dec. 3.  

Davis was part of 51 Bossier Parish high school juniors in the Bossier Youth Leadership program who visited the Bossier Parish Maximum Security Facility and Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Training Academy.

It was a tour to see what life was behind bars and was an eye-opener for Airline High School junior Jackson White.

“Don’t go to jail!” said White.  “That’s the best thing.  Just follow the laws, and be smart with your decisions.  I can tell you that’s not a place where I’d want to live.”

Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington hosted the students from all Bossier Parish Schools in the BYL program, a partnership between the Bossier Chamber of Commerce and the Bossier Parish School Board.

Each month, the students learn various aspects of the make-up of 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.

They saw the booking process, classification, a padded cell, what it’s like ‘on the inside.’

“It was very nerve-racking, but it was a great experience,” said Davis.  “Honestly, I saw stuff that I never even knew about, and I learned about things that were very intriguing and eye-opening.”

The majority of the students in BYL are girls, and when their large group slowly entered the female pod in Bossier Max, they were met with some ‘comments’ from the female inmates.

The students were not allowed to have their cell phones with them, and all their attention was on the sights and sounds of the jail pod.

Dep. Lindsey Boggs is a field training officer with Bossier Corrections.  She is also on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.).

“I think mainly that I want them to realize that it is very easy to make a mistake, and a lot of these people who are in here were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Dep. Boggs emphasized.  “They’re hanging out with the wrong crowds. And a lot of them don’t know how to get out of that situation.  So they just coming back.”

Sandy Franks is the BYL Law Enforcement Session planner, and she has been coordinating this session for more than 10 years.  She is a retired Air Force veteran and is committed to helping these students understand their choices have consequences and the importance for them to become tomorrow’s leaders in our society.

Dep. Travis Buckmaster, also a C.E.R.T. team member at Bossier Corrections, explained everything from booking, intake, fingerprinting, jail rules and regulations, meals, and all aspects of life behind bars to the students.   They even got to enter a small cell… albeit reluctantly.

“They did not want to really step foot in the cell because they were afraid the door was going to close behind them,” Boggs said.  “When those doors slam, it’s kind of an eerie feeling.  Sometimes it’s still an eerie feeling for me.”

Young Davis concurred.  “Just being in there once the door shut, it just hit me.”

BYL has been around for nearly 25 years, and through the years of the program, learning about law and order is always a highlight.  Caroline Reed from the Bossier Chamber coordinates the BYL activities in which they participate each month, learning about government, social services, government, education, and economic development.

One of the goals is to help mold these future leaders and make sure they understand how tax dollars are used to keep people safe.

“Not a lot of people know the ins and outs of jails, and I think bringing more awareness should come to everyday citizens, because I never knew most of the stuff that happened here,” said White.  “I never knew how orderly it was.”

There are about 1,250 men and women incarcerated at the Bossier Correctional Facilities.  Each of the BSO deputies who spoke with the students emphasized that those inmates are people just like them who made some bad choices.  Life in a Plain Dealing jail is called a Corrections Facility for a reason.

 “I would love for them to take away that making a mistake is not the end of the world, but being able to fix your mistake is key to staying out of here,” said Dep. Boggs.

Cpl. Ryan Buttenob provided a drone demonstration to the students to show how aerial support can help find lost children or wanted criminals.  Then it was off to get intoxicated…sort of.

Capt. Sarah Rhodes, BPSTA director, showed the students what it’s like to be impaired by having them don the ‘drunk goggles’.

Trying to walk a straight line or play a simple game of catch was difficult.  And it was more than a game, but rather an effort to help the young students understand the importance of quality public service and compliance with the law.

Davis was impressed. “Think before you act,” the junior from Benton High said.  “Think about your life decisions and how they will affect you in the future.”

Thousands of teenagers in BYL and other youth programs have toured the Bossier Max, and it’s always an eye-opening experience.  They don’t mind visiting…but they don’t want to stay.

“My biggest take-away is just follow the laws, don’t get in trouble to be in a position where you have to come here.  Be smart with your decisions, because just one decision in a split second can make you come to jail for the rest of your life.”