ORLANDO – Clarence Wheeler notes that when he was a teenager, he fell into a life of crime and got involved in selling drugs. At the time, he recalls, there were no youth mentoring programs that might have helped him get his life back on track — or warned him about the consequences of his actions.
“If there were programs like that in the community, it might have made a difference,” said Wheeler, who is now 49 years old. “But at the time, there were none.”
If there had been, it could have saved Wheeler from a very long, tough lesson. It was only in 2007 when he was able to return to Orlando, after serving 17 years in prison for violating the Controlled Substance Act.
But something very productive did come out of that experience: the 3P’s.
It was while Wheeler was serving his prison term that he came up with the idea for the 3P’s – his life’s mission today, as he visits community groups, civic organizations, churches and schools to talk with young people, and offer them a very stark, cautionary tale about the great risks that come with violating the law. It’s a lesson he knows only too well.
“If you commit a crime, if you commit violence, prison will become your home for a very long time,” he said.
Today, Wheeler is a motivational speaker who runs the 3P’s Prison Prevention Program, a Save Our Youth campaign that he operates out of his office at 750 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Suite 233, in Orlando.
Parents can bring their troubled teens to him, and Wheeler will work with the parents to help steer their children away from a life of crime.
“This program was formed in 2004 during my 17 years of incarceration,” he said. “I started everything while I was incarcerated. I started doing the framework while I was in prison, and then when I got out, I instituted it in the community.”
His inspiration for this community-oriented program, he said, was to help pay back the city and state whose laws he had violated back in 1990, when he was still in his 20s.
“I tried to figure out a way to give back to the community, so I started thinking of doing this,” he said.
The program is designed to aid and educate young people about what a life of crime leads to – including the misery of prison life. It’s also designed, he said, to help rid the community of the destruction of both violence and drug addiction, and to help kids steer clear of a life behind bars.
“Parents will bring their kids to me if they’ve got a problem kid or a troubled kid,” he said. “I will sit down with them one on one, and tell them about the consequences of their action.”
That’s his central theme, Wheeler said — understanding, envisioning, and conceptualizing just how dangerous any illegal behavior is to that teen’s future.
“The basic message is those consequences, the consequences of their actions,” he said. “If you commit this act, there are serious consequences. Most of the kids understand what they’re doing, but I let them know if they get involved with any drugs or gun actions, they can end up in prison like me for 20 years – or end up in prison for life, depending on what they do.”
He makes no attempt to portray prison as someplace that’s cool, hip or fun. The reality, he said, is it’s a violent, degrading, and humiliating place to live.
“I let them know what it’s like, how bad it is,” he said. “You lose all your rights. Then you’re on probation for five years, and you can’t vote.”
The way the program works is parents can contact Wheeler at 407-286-2327 or 407-879-2407, and arrange a month long session between him and their troubled teen.
“It all depends on the parents and the situation of their kids,” he said. “It could be a four week program where I’m doing a one on one with the youth and the parents.”
Step one is that initial group meeting to evaluate the youth’s situation. During step two, he teaches that teenager about the A-B-C’s of the 3P’s: A stands for “Awareness,” B stands for “Belief,” and, of course, C is for “Consequence.”
During step three, he gives the teen homework to do, then evaluates how they’re doing. As part of step four, he participates in community programs and reaches out to an even larger group of kids in this region.
Talking about his own experience while being incarcerated, Wheeler said, clearly has a sobering impact on the teens he deals with. After working on these sessions, Wheeler said, “I can see the difference in the kids.”
He notices the same thing when he speaks at public events, Wheeler added.
“It’s going well,” he said. “When I set up programs around the community, I may speak at a school or some kind of event, or go to the juvenile detention center. And since I’ve been out, I’ve been able to get this program to be a 501c3 not-for-profit organization.”
As a non-profit, 3P’s Prison Prevention Program also accepts donations. To learn more, call Wheeler or email him at Clarencewheeler58@yahoo.com.
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