A former Wheeling Jesuit University basketball player who is serving a 40-year sentence for murder wants kids to not make the same mistakes he did to end his once promising future.
“I walked up to a kid, shot him, took his drugs and left. I didn’t find out until later that the kid was 18-years-old that I had just killed,” said Theophilus Blackston when he spoke to students Thursday at Tyler County Consolidated High School. “The ironic thing is that my whole life, I wanted to help kids like Im trying to do now, but I ended up taking his life for drugs.”
Organized by the Tyler County Prosecutor’s Office, the event sought to have prison inmates and others share their experiences to highlight the bad choices driven by peer pressure and bullying.
Toni VanCamp, victim services coordinator for the prosecutor’s office, told students that their future was in their own hands. VanCamp said she hoped students would learn something from the presentation so as to make a positive contribution to society.
“We want to see your faces and names in the sports section of the Tyler Star News, not somewhere else for their day-to-day work schedules,” VanCamp said referring to the judge, prosecutor and police who attended the presentation.
Blackston said he succumbed to peer pressure when he and his friends decided to steal drugs from Nov. 9, 2007 from a crack house in East Wheeling. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of Frederick Douglas Gilmore III was sentenced to 40 years in prison in February 2009.
“I know what you guys are going to say — “that isn’t going to happen to me. I’m not going to do that,” Blackston said to the students. “One decision can affect your life forever.”
During Blackston’s sentencing in February 2009, Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht said Blackston could complete his sentence in 20 years with good behavior and could be eligible for parole in 10 years. Blackston, who is currently an inmate at the Saint Marys Department of Correctional Center, has been in prison for the past eight years.
Blackston, 44, spoke of how he sold drugs as teenager, but he had promise as an athlete. Blackstons said he was 17-years-old, offered a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. He admitted to being too busy “getting high” on drugs, that he didn’t take the chance of a lifetime .
“I wanted to get high and not disappoint my friends, so I didn’t even go to the tryout,” he said. “It almost destroyed my mother because she couldn’t understand why I didn’t do that. I was so hard headed, I didn’t even see the effects of what it was doing.”
Blackston said when he was 18-years-old, he started serving time at the Federal Correctional Institute in Morgantown.
Blackston said while he was inmate, he decided to get his life back together. He completed courses needed to receive a high school diploma and started playing basketball.
That might have been the end of Blackston’s story, but he caught the eye of folks interested in seeing him play basketball for Wheeling Jesuit University. When Blackston was released from prison, the school awarded him an athletic scholarship ? a second chance at life. He fondly recalled WJU was ranked 2nd in the nation while he was on the team.
But not all of Blackston’s time at the university was happy. He said because he was a former inmate, people treated him differently.
“When I would go places, people would hide their purses,?”he said. “It was so demoralizing. I felt so belittled because people weren’t giving me a chance to show who I really was. There’s more to bullying that just physical altercations.”
Blackston said he thought about suicide, but his educational adviser helped through this tough period by reminding him that if he gave in, the bullies would win. Blackston didn’t give into his critics, but went onto earn a criminal justice degree. He vividly remembered a party at a local bar in Wheeling the day he graduated in May 1998.
“I go into the bathroom and the people were passing around a bag of cocaine,” he said. “Peer pressure — me not wanting to be uncool, I took the bag of cocaine and snorted it. I was in the moment. I didn’t even think this would ruin my life.”
Blackston said though he went onto become a teacher, that night came back to haunt him because he started doing cocaine again. He later lost his job after he was indicted for distribution of cocaine.
“All that I had worked for ? coming from a federal prison — all the way up, I threw it all away because of that one decision I made in that bathroom,” he said.
After reliving the decisions that led up to Gilmore’s death, Blackston offered some advice to students whose whole lives are ahead of them.
“I hope you guys can take something from us — I love doing this because it is my way of not letting the young man that I killed die in vain,” he said. “This is my way to give back to him.”