A former paramedic and police chief, Judge Kevin Madison knows the dangers of teenage drinking in terrifying detail. “I’ve had to remove bodies from cars,” Madison said. “It’s bad enough when they’re adults. But 15, 16 years old … it’s horrible.”
Many of those wrecks were the result of alcohol, Madison said, and as presiding judge of Lakeway Municipal Court of Record No. 1, he has continued to see his share of underage drinking cases, which result in varied consequences not limited to just drunk driving.
So when Madison recently watched The Unconscious Truth – The Physical and Legal Effects of Underage Binge Drinking, produced by the Texas Young Lawyers Association, it struck a chord with him. He decided to require each juvenile in his court with a minor in consumption of alcohol conviction to attend a screening of the video as a probation requirement.
“The Unconscious Truth is extremely well scripted and produced,” Madison said. “The acting is tremendous and it resonates with a powerful message that hosting teen drinking parties isn’t cool—it is illegal, unethical, and dangerous! This video will save lives in Texas.”
The Unconscious Truth multimedia project consists of the video as well as a discussion curriculum and true/false quiz. It educates viewers about the path to, warning signs of, and dangers of alcohol poisoning, as well as risks of parents hosting teen drinking parties. It was the main project for Natalie Cobb Koehler during her 2011-2012 TYLA presidency and was supported by a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation.
The video presents a fictional depiction of such a party, loosely based on the true story of Shelby Allen, a 17-year-old girl who died from alcohol poisoning after taking 15 or more shots of vodka at a friend’s house while the parents slept upstairs. Then it features documentary-style interviews with the real Shelby Allen’s mother and father. (The project is available at tyla.org/tyla/index.cfm/projects/the-unconscious-truth.)
Madison said he appreciates that the video not only illustrates to parents why it is a bad idea to host teenage drinking parties—even if it seems safer to keep an eye on the kids—but it also clearly communicates the health risks of binge drinking, which he said most teenagers don’t realize and parents too seldom talk about.
“I think it is really important that the video says that. It explains that it’s not OK. If the video saves one life, it’s worth it.”
Madison tells juvenile alcohol offenders in his court that if they bring a parent to the screening, he will exempt them from up to eight hours of community service. “The video far offsets the value of community service,” he said, noting that it is effective because it focuses on the problem that got them in trouble in the first place; community service, he said, is something most of them merely check off the list.
So far Madison has screened the video in his courtroom twice, and he said that while one or two of the teenagers might try to “play cool” and appear unfazed, most of them leave in a somber mood. The part of the film he finds most impactful is the interview with the Shelby Allen’s mother, which he called “haunting.”
Madison has recommended the video to other municipal court judges in Texas and knows of a few who are currently using or are planning to use it in similar ways.
For more information about TYLA and its programs, go to tyla.org.