| drug/alcohol addicted
with many of them afflicted with AIDS and hepatitis. It would
be difficult to find a more intense learning program for these high
school students than for them to hear the stories of these people.
These men and women, young and old, are very willing to tell their
stories of how they have gotten into this situation with their lives.
Some led very successful lives until they turned to drugs and alcohol.
They tell of how they lost their jobs and their families. Without
exception, everyone relates that their lives began going down hill
when they began to smoke marijuana at age 12, 13, 14, or 15.
None of them ever started out on hard drugs, but now many of them
are injecting dirty needles in their arms, legs, or under their tongues.
Especially shocking to the Prep boys is when they hear the clients
talk about taking a relatively new drug on the streets called “wet”
which is actually embalming fluid, and quickly destroys brain cells.
each night, a guest speaker comes to speak to the boys. Among
them are a Camden police officer from the parish who tells the straight
story of life on the streets of this crime ridden city which has one
of the highest murder rates, per capita, in the country. A state social
worker talks of the difficulties that residents have in getting
a good education and a good job, and a registered nurse from the trauma
unit of Cooper Hospital who tells of the untold damage that drugs
can do to a person. After the speaker leaves, the students gather
to discuss their experiences of the day. Often, this goes on
for two or more hours. As the clock approaches midnight, another
“family” leads the group in night prayer.
Another new experience for the boys is attending
Wednesday evening Mass at Our Lady of Fatima, a parish staffed by
the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
this is a Hispanic parish, the Mass is in Spanish and two of the
students try out their Spanish skills by offering the reading and
the responsorial psalm.
One particularly exciting story the students
relate happened to the October Metanoia group. They
got to walk all through the south part of the city on Mischief Night!
Escorted by a large entourage of Camden and State Police Officers
as well as State Correctional Officers, carrying flashlights, the
students were very much welcomed by the citizens for their support.
The other memorable occasion was in December when St. Augustine
Prep’s school bus, their mode of transportation in the city, was
stolen one night from the church parking lot. It was found,
undamaged, the next day.
Coming from the suburbs of South Jersey, none
of the boys have ever seen a drug dealer or a prostitute before.
In traveling through the city, they see both, along with the many
who are working hard to make a living and keep their families together
in difficult circumstances. All the experiences, living and
working in the city, observing those who are striving to overcome
hardship, seeing and meeting the survivors and the struggling, allow
each student to come away with impressive memories and life experiences.
Fr. Paul, the school’s president, said that he
is very excited about the wonderful comments that he has received
from parents and students alike…all agree, yes, they have experienced
* * * * *
David Graber, M.SS.CC. resides with the Camden community of the
Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Brother
teaches religion and Marine Biology at St. Augustine Prep School
in Richland, N.J. and leads all of the student retreats.