Michael DeLeon

Michael DeLeon’s Steered Straight Thrift Store is holding a grand opening for its new location on Aug. 1. The store, which sells clothes, books, housewares and other items, supports DeLeon’s ministry which focuses on drug addiction recovery and suicide prevention. SUBMITTED

Steered Straight, a ministry dedicated to fighting drug addictions and suicides, opened a thrift store earlier this year, and sales have been so strong that it is moving to a larger location.

Steered Straight Thrift Store is moving this week to 1222 Park Ave., inside the old Bounce U building, from its previous location on W. College Street, said Darla DeLeon, one of the owners. The original store opened in February but had to shut down for a time during the pandemic. The new store is five times larger, she said.

During its short time in business, the store has seen such high demand that it needed to move to a larger location, said Dustin Mayers, marketing manager.

All proceeds from the store support the ministry, they said.

The Aug. 1. grand opening will feature a number of activities, including $25 and $50 fill-a-bag sales, a silent auction with gift baskets.

Steered Straight was founded by Darla’s husband, Michael R. DeLeon, an ex-felon and drug addict who freely shares his story of his fall and redemption and uses his experience to urge children to avoid the same path.

“I destroyed everything I touched,” he said.

DeLeon said he was a vice president of a $42 million corporation in North Carolina living the American dream. He became addicted to first cocaine, then meth and heroin. He was fired and lived homeless in New Jersey. He said he became a gang member and ran guns and drugs. A hit was placed on him. By that time, he had moved in with his mother. He said he was not home when the shooting was attempted, but his mother was shot and killed on Mother’s Day in 1995, he said.

He was indicted for his mother’s killing. He said he passed three polygraph exams but police continued to assume he was guilty. He said he considers himself responsible, but did not kill her.

Two years had passed since he was arrested, and he was offered a deal to plead guilty to first-degree murder. He would be sentenced to five years. With time served, he would go to a halfway house in six months and be free in 36 months. He wanted the case to go away, so he took the deal.

Ten months after being released, he was in a car accident and doctors prescribed him hundreds of opioid pills, he said. This happened despite his being an addict. Having the pills violated the conditions of his probation, so he was sentenced to 20 years and served seven years.

While in prison, he said he put a plan together to fight addiction and keep kids from ending up like him.

“I have no excuses,” he said.

Before the pandemic, he visited schools to talk to youths. He said he focuses on the drugs people think are not bad: marijuana, nicotine and alcohol. Those start addictions in most cases, he said. What people call marijuana is not true marijuana, but genetically modified THC, and it is destroying lives, he said.

DeLeon said that since 2010, he has known about 500 addicts who died, and he attended about 221 funerals.

He said he believes that 2020 will be the worst year ever for drug-induced deaths because of the virus lockdowns and unemployment. Suicide already is at a 50-year high, he said.

“My mission has never been more important,” he said.

The only way to fight addiction is to keep youths from trying drugs, DeLeon said. Since schools have been closed, he wrote a book to give parents a talking point for every day of the year to help their kids understand the dangers of drugs.

The book, titled, “Table Talks and Dashboard Conversations,” is available at DeLeon’s ministry site, steeredstraight.org and on Amazon.

In response to COVID-19, DeLeon said he is moving his school talks to a digital program that can be livestreamed for parents and classes.

“This is a problem and a consequence we will have to deal with for the next 15 years,” he said. “If we keep kids out another year, poor and urban kids … we won’t be able to reverse the damage. The academic regression will be so bad it will be irreversible.”


STEERED STRAIGHT THRIFT STORE

Location: 1222 Park Ave. in Murfreesboro. The site’s grand opening will be from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1.

Owners: Darla and Michael DeLeon

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, closed.

Contact: (615) 396-8987 or steeredstraight.org

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