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Former inmate shares experiences with middle-schoolers

Former inmate shares experiences with middle-schoolers

September 23rd, 2017 by Bob Watson in News

Steve Griggs was 40 when he went to prison, where he served 21 years and nine months of a 25-year sentence. Griggs shared his experience Friday with Thomas Jefferson Middle School students.

Photo by Bob Watson /News Tribune.

Steve Griggs was 40 when he went to prison, he told Thomas Jefferson Middle School students Friday afternoon.

And he served 21 years and nine months of a 25-year sentence in federal prison before being released in March 2014.

He repeated that number several times during his presentation — emphasizing that he spent time in the "hole" (solitary confinement) on a number of occasions just for making guards upset or for violating prison rules.

Griggs said he spent four years in an Oklahoma prison and never saw daylight.

"I don't want to see any of you all go to prison," he said. "I know what it's all about.

"I've been to some of the toughest prisons in America."

Griggs had been involved in performing music even before he went to prison, and after his release, Griggs returned to music.

His Steve Griggs Band was an opening act for the July 1 Wynonna Judd concert at the former Missouri State Penitentiary.

Griggs told the students he was raised in Missouri but later moved to Texas (in 1979) and was running a family furniture store when he ran into his trouble with the law.

He went to prison on federal charges of conspiracy to sell methamphetamine.

Though he said he never used drugs, he added it's easy to get involved with drugs — often starting with a friend trying to use drugs while on a date.

"I know you all have heard about marijuana being a gateway drug to other drugs," Griggs said. "Well, it pretty much is.

"You'll hear people who want to be tough or whatever and say, 'It's not a gateway drug.' That ain't real — it is."

Griggs said a friend got him involved in drug transactions, starting by asking for a loan, then repaying him with lots of cash that triggered his "greed" to make more.

"We brought it out of Mexico, Chile, Colombia — and I knew most of the big drug dealers," Griggs reported. "The reason I got that 21 years and nine months is because they said I was the biggest drug dealer in North Texas."

He made "millions of dollars — more money than you could put on that table," he told the students. However, he added when asked what happened to that money, the law says the government can take money that was earned illegally.

"It took me about four or five years in prison to figure out that money wasn't worth it," he said.

He sold his family's farm when he got out of prison so he could start over.

Griggs' father died while Griggs was in prison.

"I didn't get to go to his funeral," he said.

Griggs had young children when he was sent to prison — a son who became an attorney and a daughter who's now a publicist — and Griggs said he didn't get to see his kids grow up or enjoy their successes.

However, he did see people murdered, assaulted and raped.

"I want to really emphasize how sorry I am for what I did," Griggs said. "If there's some way that I could bring everything that I've seen to you, it would scare the hell out of you."

He saw people commit suicide — but never considered killing himself, because "I relied on God the whole time."

He said his presentation is part of his trying to give back to society.

"For 20 years, I was a 'taker,'" he said.

However, following the philosophy of his Cherokee ancestors, Griggs said he now is trying to show: "You should love all other people.

"We are to love each other."

He warned the students people who think they don't care ultimately won't like being in prison.

"I don't care who you are, how tough you are or anything else," Griggs said.

"It's a very terrible thing to go to prison" — where inmates have no choice in clothing or when to sleep or eat or even what to eat.

And absolutely no privacy.

"You're going to stand in a shower, and people are going to walk by because there's no shower curtains," he said. "They're going to walk by and make sure you're not doing something you shouldn't be doing."

The Thomas Jefferson Middle School students who heard Griggs' presentation were part of the Council For Drug Free Youth's Team Challenge.

Executive Director Joy Sweeney explained: "It's an anti-bullying, anti-drug message.

"Basically, what we teach them is if they work together, support each other and can help support each other to stay drug- and alcohol-free all the way until they're 21, and hopefully for the rest of their lives."

She said having Griggs talk to the students was "a unique opportunity to have somebody with personal experience (present) what he experienced and why he experienced it."

During a question-and-answer session at the end of his half-hour presentation, Griggs was asked to describe jail in one word.

"Hell," he said.