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Essays come from firsthand experience

September 17, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, WVa. - Lauren Askin had to look no further than her own family's experiences to write an award-winning essay on the perils of drug abuse.

Askin, 14, a freshman at Martinsburg High School, was an eighth-grader at North Middle School when she penned the essay on "Why I Will Say No to Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco." She wrote about the havoc her father's drug abuse caused her family.

"Each and every one one of us can become an addict," she wrote in the essay, which took second place in a contest sponsored by the West Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

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"I know, because my father, a one-time prominent attorney, along with his family, has suffered the consequences and the tragedies of a drug addiction," she wrote.

Attorney Steven M. Askin last year spent time in prison on a criminal contempt charge related to a drug case. On Tuesday the state's Lawyer Disciplinary Board recommended to the West Virginia Supreme Court that he be disbarred for five years.

"I hope that we, the youth of America, can get a handle on drugs before the handles of our prison gates close behind us and lock our family and our future away," she wrote.

Sallie Askin said her daughter has read the essay to elementary and middle school students and that it hasn't been easy for her children to go to school when their father's name frequently appeared on the front pages of newspapers.

"The people I hang around with, they all understand. It's the other people. I wonder what they think," Lauren said Wednesday of her family's situation.

At the same time, Sallie Askin said her daughter remains very close to her father and the experiences of the past few years have brought them closer together as a family.

Lauren Askin's essay also quoted statistics showing that 13 percent of elementary students are smoking cigarettes and how the problems of drug and alcohol dependency increase as adolescents approach adulthood.

Classmate Ben Arant, 15, of Martinsburg, won first prize in the contest. He also took a personal view in his essay.

"I wrote about my two cousins. One of them became addicted to drugs and one didn't. One succeeded and the other didn't," Arant said this week.

The contest was held during the previous school year and Martinsburg Police Chief Wayne Cleveland said he had recently been informed that Arant and Askin were the winners. Cleveland, who was secretary of the chiefs association, said there were hundreds of entries from across the state.

Not only were Arant and Askin both attending North Middle School at the time they submitted the essays, both were also students of language arts teacher Joan Johnson.

"Their writing is very worthy," Johnson said this week as Cleveland handed Arant his $500 first-prize check. Askin received $400 for second place.

The entries were initially judged at the regional level by former college English professors. Final judging was done by the board of directors of the chiefs of police association.

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