CITRUS PARK — Jessica Morey knew that what she was doing was wrong.
Bullied early in her elementary school days, she had decided she was going to take it out on the girls smaller than her. She targeted girls who had few friends and those who simply became afraid of her.
Last week, Jessica choked up as she gave a speech to the entire student body of Smith Middle School. The kids had no idea what the assembly was about, and they filled the gymnasium like most middle school kids do, laughing, and thinking it was kind of cool to miss class.
Jessica started talking after entering the room along with her friend Desiree Romero. Nearby, a few Smith students performed a dance routine.
Jessica used to pick on Desiree, a girl she now describes as one of her best friends. She said she’s changed and wants to make sure that no one in her school is bullied.
“When I was in kindergarten I was picked on for no reason,” Jessica said. “People picked on me and called me names and I would go home crying. I didn’t want to go to school. We moved and I never liked my new school, so I started to pick on people. I was really mean.”
She went to a new school in Temple Terrace where, she said, she started to make her own rules.
“I was a new kid and decided that no one was going to pick on me so I started to pick on the other kids,” Jessica said. “I didn’t like myself, but I kept doing it.”
When she changed schools again, one of her first targets was Desiree. Desiree, in return, said she didn’t like Jessica and knew she was going to be trouble.
“She picked on me and I would go home crying,” Desiree said. “I was just so unhappy.”
That’s about when it all changed.
“I saw that the girls I picked on were crying,” Jessica said. “I don’t know why, but I started to feel really bad. I had never felt bad before. When I looked at Desiree and saw her crying because of something I said, it hurt me. I don’t know why I did it, but I went home feeling so bad. I think it hurt me more than I hurt them.”
Desiree said she knew there was more to Jessica than Jessica was letting on.
“I wanted her to be my friend,” Desiree said. “I really wanted to be her friend because I knew she was a nice girl.”
On a different day, Jessica walked into the school bathroom and heard crying from one of the stalls.
Then she saw blood.
Entering the stall to help, she found a fellow student had been cutting herself with razor blades. Jessica talked her out of ending her life, that day. Weeks later, the student committed suicide.
“I had to change schools because it hurt so bad,” Jessica said. “My whole life changed.”
Jessica and Desiree became friends. They say they still see bullying at Smith, as well as in other places, like the mall. They see too many kids making fun of too many other kids.
Both suggest that walking away from bullying isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it pays off in the end.
“The people I used to hang out with were my friends, but they really weren’t,” Jessica said. “Now I have real friends.”
She and Desiree had a lot of real friends at the Smith assembly last week. They proved their point.