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Sgt. Stephen Castellano served on the Danbury Police Department for 33 years and is retiring next month.

In the 80s and 90s, being a D.A.R.E. officer was like running a scared straight program for elementary schools — only we were going for scared sober. We figured if we taught kids how they can get high from almost anything, and how dangerous it can be, then they’d never want to touch the stuff. And unlike people running today’s drug education, we did a damn good job. 

If I hadn’t gone into those classrooms every week, those kids would have no idea how readily available drugs and paraphernalia are. I taught stuff their teachers couldn’t teach them — like common sense, and the metric system. They wouldn’t know they can make a crack pipe out of things found around the house without me. Moms… if your scouring pads for scrubbing pots keep disappearing from under the kitchen sink, I hate to tell you this, but you might have a little crackhead in training under your roof. 

Sure, the school district gave us “booklets” with lessons created by “experts.” But we’re the experts, and we had access to an evidence room full of “lessons.” I put together a briefcase of every type of narcotic we’ve ever taken off a perp with some crime scene photos sprinkled in. Kids back then were smart enough to connect the dots. They’re 10! 

On the first day I always got the kids to sit in a circle. I passed around a laminated pot leaf and made sure everyone got a chance to hold it. Naturally, some would try to hold on to it, but I reminded them to KEEP PASSING. Some kid would always raise their hand and say, “This smells like my dad’s car.” Nobody likes a narc, Jessica. Don’t make extra work for me, sweetie. 

One thing they didn’t know… the difference between Maui Wowie and Mom’s Oregano. They thought uncut heroin was parmesan cheese. By God, they’d be out in a pasture digging through cow pies for magic mushrooms without me. They wouldn’t know quality narcotics from Papa John’s toppings.

Over the years, my favorite part of the program was the end, when all the kids wrote an essay about what they learned in D.A.R.E. Some of them thought they were clever and wrote how they “can’t wait to try drugs now!” and “thanks for showing us how a water bong works.” Jokes on you, 5th grader: I was only demonstrating there’s no need to shoplift when you can make a fully functional bong with stuff in your recycling bin. Shoplifting and drug use? That’s taking two crimes off the streets right there.

But I’ll tell you, it broke my heart everytime I had to bust one of my former D.A.R.E. kids for drugs and alcohol. I would always ask them, “Didn’t I teach you anything?” The answer was too often in the affirmative. 

You know, in hindsight, I did make psychedelics sound extremely fun. But I think most of them were still scared. 

Oh, f—.

Paulina Combow is a writer and stand-up comedian. She contributes to Reductress and Ladyspike Media and has had funny essays published in The Washington Post. Find her at

Disclaimer: This Article Is a Joke

Speaking of absurdity, did you know there are still over 40,000 people locked up on nonviolent cannabis-related charges around the US? It’s time to let them out.

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