A couple of months ago my 19-year-old sister visited a women’s correctional facility in Orange County. She was there to fulfill a requirement due to a DUI she received last year, (don’t worry, I asked her permission to air out her dirty laundry in the paper) after her visit, she told me about a girl she met, who was the same age as her, who was serving a 15-years-to-life sentence at the facility because she had decided to drink and drive and ended up killing two people.

This girl, who was born and raised in Newport Beach, had received a scholarship to college and was looking forward to a summer internship at an advertising firm. However, because of her mistake she is locked up for the rest of her life. “There is no amount of money or anything my parents can do to get me out of here,” she cried during my sister’s visit. “Besides, it’s hard to even live with myself knowing I killed two people. I can’t sleep without having nightmares.”

As my sister repeated what the girl said, she herself started crying. “Jen, when I was looking at her and listening to her I just kept thinking that that could have been me,” she said to me as we drove down the freeway after leaving the jail.

My sister was right, that could have been her and it also could have been me or could have been a number of people I know who at one time or another have drank and drove.

Our high schools in the area are about two weeks away from graduation. In two weeks, our teenagers will feel like they have arrived, like they can conquer the world, like nothing or no one should be able to get in their way. Don’t get me wrong, there is almost nothing wrong with feeling that way, but I hope they understand that without some common sense, all of their excitement and thirst for life could be taken away in an instant.

I love the enthusiasm of a teenager; I love how quickly they fall in and out of love and how everything is such a drama and how they are so optimistic about the future. In my career I have interviewed several teenagers, who were smarter and more creative and had more depth and compassion for the world that I ever had at their age. So this is why I am writing this column, because I don’t want to hear about any of them getting into a car after drinking and making the same mistake that my sister did or that girl she visited in jail did.

Last year, Mira Costa High School conducted the “Every 15 Minutes” program in which they staged a drunk driving accident. I was there in the crowd among the teenagers watching and while some of the students really took it to heart, some of them didn’t. Just like this article, some people will take it to heart and take the time to share it with someone who will benefit from it and other people will use it to pick up their dog poop or to line their bird cage with.

At first, my sister was hesitant to let me share her mistake in the paper, but after a few minutes of thinking about it, she told me that if sharing her mistake would stop someone else from doing what she did, than it was worth the embarrassment it might cause her.

Since my sister received her DUI, she had to sell her car to pay off the thousands of dollars in fines. Her driver’s license was taken away from her so she has had to take the bus to and from school (she attends a local college) and her job. She is eight-hours of community service away from getting her license back but once she does get it back, her insurance will be too expense for her to pay. However, she said that after attending the many classes and visiting the jail, she is glad she was pulled over that night.

“This had been really hard to not have a car and to have to go to all these classes, but all I keep thinking is I could have been that other girl and spent the rest of my life in jail or even worse I could have died,” she said. “Seriously, I am really lucky.”

I agree, she is lucky and maybe some of you reading this are remembering how lucky you have been, I know I am. But after you have your moment of refection and count your blessings, please do me a favor and share this column with at least one teenager, because I don’t think it is okay to just rely on luck. Besides, if you really need something to pick up dog poop or line your birdcage with, there are other less interesting newspapers to use that for.

And one more thing, congratulations to all of the South Bay’s graduating high school students, each of you deserves to make all of your dreams come true.