PICO RIVERA – Towering over the 22 middle school children clamoring around him, two-time Super Bowl winning team member James Washington patiently signed each football eagerly shoved his way. The former Dallas Cowboys defensive back was at the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station this weeknight to volunteer in the new gang prevention program nicknamed PRIDE – a “scared straight”-style approach that also focuses on presenting positive alternatives to kids. Begun five weeks ago by sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station officials and local clergy, the Pico Rivera Individual Development in Ethics Program (PRIDE) already has parents clamoring to enroll their children. The Rotary Club is offering full funding for the first 9-week session. The program targets kids between the ages of 12 and 15 who have “dabbled in drugs and graffiti” but are not actual gang members yet, said Sgt. Steve Sanchez, one of the program’s founders. “These are kids who are teetering on the edge of getting into the gang life,” said Sanchez, who started the program with no money. “We want to show them, not only the consequences of those choices, but the alternative. We want to show them a hopeful future.” Sanchez said the program’s structure focuses the first few weeks on the consequences of “poor choices” and the remaining weeks on the possibilities available from making “good choices.” One field trip took the kids to jail, where they were given orange jump suits, handcuffed and put into cells. Another outing introduced them to Skid Row. But by far, the visit to the county morgue was the most attention-grabbing field trip, youngsters said. Seeing dead bodies up close, with their bluish-gray tinge and their 10-cent toe tags, really “freaked out” 14-year-old Gabriel Palafox. Among others, the children saw a male gang member who had died of a gunshot wound to the head and a dead “crack baby” whose mother had died of a drug overdose, said Sanchez. “I felt something weird inside,” said Palafox, who earned his first `A’ and found a new interest in reading since starting PRIDE. “I saw the doctor pulling the heart out of a guy’s chest. I never seen anything like it. “You might not be able to see it really, but I want to study all of a sudden,” he added, shrugging. Thirteen-year-old Serina Roldan said the sight and smell of the dead definitely scared her from risking such a grisly end. “It taught me a lesson,” she said. “The man told us the toe tags cost 10 cents each. So you gotta think, is your life only worth 10 cents?” After signing the footballs, Washington spoke about his brushes with gang life growing up in Watts 30 years ago. Washington, 42, spoke skillfully to the eighth-grade audience, using examples and humor they understood, jokingly imitating what he knew the children were thinking about “yet another old cat” telling them he understood their lives. After the state took Washington away from his mother at age 4, he was raised by his grandmother. Eventually he took to running the streets with his five best “partners,” all of whom are either dead or in jail now. “Along the way they made choices,” Washington said. “I chose education. You guys are at a crossroads. You have a second chance to make better choices.” Washington said he plans to be “physically involved” in the program, not just offering an endorsement or money. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!