Artist Chris Heinzelmann (Bobble) and Joe Nester filled Jefferson City High School's Little Theater with RAW (Recovering Artists Worldwide) acoustics Tuesday, sharing their stories of addiction through music.
"We're here to fight the heroin epidemic through music," Heinzelmann told the group of juniors in the audience. "We want to hopefully prevent some of you from going down a path me and him have been through."
Hosted by the Council For Drug Free Youth, students in grades 10-12 have had the opportunity to see RAW artists perform Monday through today.
Heinzelmann, owner of Recovering Artists Worldwide record label, began his recovery from drugs three years ago and since has signed other artists under RAW who want to promote music in a positive way rather than promoting use of drugs and alcohol. The label launched in March 2016.
"Addiction is a disease; it's not a choice," he told students Tuesday.
Addiction might not be apparent for those who start using alcohol and drugs because they can hold off from using for days or weeks at a time — but once the addiction kicks in, people will do anything for drugs, Heinzelmann explained.
After losing his scholarship at the University of South Florida, a friend introduced him to drugs and everything went downhill from there. Heinzelmann eventually lost everything and was homeless for 2 years.
Just because someone uses marijuana or alcohol now doesn't mean it will escalate to addiction, but it will for 15-20 percent of people, he emphasized.
"If we can help one of you in this room, that's all that matters," Heinzelmann said.
RAW headlining artist Joe Nester performed three songs for the crowd — "Shower me with Love," "Never Gonna Take My Soul" and "Better Soul." He has been signed with the label since May 2016.
"I remember being in that seat," Nester said. "I remember when people used to come and speak about drug awareness and I didn't take it seriously because at that time I didn't have any interest in drugs."
A year after graduating from high school, Nester became addicted to heroin and wound up spending seven years in prison and 10 years homeless.
He has been clean since December 2012.
Signing with RAW changed his life overnight, with his top-selling album titled "To Hell and Back," Nester said.
"Now I am clean and sober, it's a big deal to come out and do this and promote awareness for youth at an early age by someone they can relate to," he said. "Programs like this are where my heart and soul is."
CDFY Executive Director Joy Sweeney said the purpose of such programs is to heighten awareness among youth of the long-term effects of drug usage.
"If anything, we hope that it inspires them to at least think about the choices they're making," Sweeney said.
CDFY Project Coordinator Melle Richardson added: "With all of our programs, we try to get a drug-free message out in the different ways youth respond to them."
Students in ninth through 12th grades are encouraged to submit videos to CDFY's "What Drug Free Means to Me" video contest by 5 p.m. Oct 20. For more information, visit jccdfy.org.