If you are the parent of a high school senior, you might want to leave a copy of this month’s Advocate lying around, conveniently opened to Keri Mitchell’s article about Joseph Tellini and Ian Walker.
Almost a year ago these two high school seniors decided to play a prank on the staff at Lake Highlands High School. Of course, “prank” is a misnomer these days. Since 9/11, senior pranks no longer exist in the eyes of school officials, law enforcement agencies and district attorneys.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Lacing muffins with marijuana and leaving them for staff and teachers was serious, stupid, thoughtless and deserving of an appropriate punishment. I personally don’t think it was malicious, however.
Tellini and Walker are facing five counts of second-degree felony charges each. Each count is subject to two to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Word is that the Dallas County district attorney’s office is seeking deferred probation and community service rather than time in prison or state jail. As a parent, I’m certain their parents must be relieved that the possibility of jail time is off the table, but if they enter guilty pleas or go to trial and are found guilty, the two young men will still end up with felony records. In Texas, the collateral consequences of a felony record are considerable.
If Tellini and Walker come through this chapter of their lives with felony records and stay in Texas, they will never be able to hold a publicly elected office, serve on a jury or grand jury, or serve as an executor or administrator of an estate in probate court. If either is a witness in a courtroom, the fact they are a felon will be automatically admissible as evidence.
Since their charges are drug-related, they would not be eligible for any federal school grants, loans or work assistance. Also, they would be ineligible to receive most state-based higher educational financial assistance. And there’s that lifetime ban on food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families if they ever fall on hard times, or have trouble finding a job.
There are numerous licensed professions that ban felons’ entry, either for life or a period of time. And then there are all the other employers who conduct background checks on potential employees. I wonder how many of those employers will hire a convicted felon? “Felon” is a label that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. As I was doing research for this piece, I saw plenty of sites on the internet advertising searches of persons to find felony records.
My guess is that Joseph Tellini and Ian Walker may never be able to completely put May 16, 2006, behind them, though it seems like they’re trying. I understand both boys are attending college this year.
Circumstances have changed so drastically over the last few years. There is a new reality derived from the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings and 9/11, and the authorities are not willing to chalk up pranks as kids being kids anymore.
So my advice? Leave this issue around in plain view as a reminder to your senior that what seems funny or clever at midnight surrounded by a group of friends doesn’t necessarily look the same in the light of day when pranksters become perpetrators.