Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone was quick to make clear that punishment in U.S. District Court of a person charged with a federal drug-related or violent-crime-related offense is going to be sincere and swift.

Stone also said he has a message for young people who are members of gangs and for those who are dealing in illegal drugs: “Don’t get caught up in this because they’re long prison sentences.”

Stone said that when imprisonment is ordered by the federal court, “You’re not sentenced and going next door over here (in the Nash County Detention Center) where your family can visit you. You might be anywhere from Fort Leavenworth to anywhere in America.”

Stone has continued to make clear his office’s top priority is to go after gangs, guns and illegal drugs — and he has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh to secure federal prison time for hardened troublemakers.

Stone on Friday was asked to comment in the context of the federal judicial system in the eastern district of North Carolina handing down stiff sentences — and of people at risk of ending up in federal prison having been warned what could happen to them if they continued to commit crimes.

In 2016 in Elizabeth City, an intervention program was held to issue such a warning to eight state probationers who were called in to appear in person.

One of those who addressed the probationers was Sgt. Joe Friday of the Greenville Police Department.

Friday at the time said that in Raleigh, Chief U.S. District Judge James Dever III is so hard-line when handing down sentences he is known as “Forever Dever,” meaning the person convicted will end up “pretty much gone forever,” with either a long sentence or life imprisonment in a federal facility.

In 2012, Elizabeth City man Joey Lamar White found out U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan also hands down lengthy sentences against career criminals.

Flanagan ordered White imprisoned for 40 years for having confessed to having peddled crack cocaine. White, 24 at the time of the sentencing, already had an extensive prior record, including being involved in a shooting outside a convenience store that inadvertently injured an 8-month-old girl.

Acting U.S. Attorney Norman Acker on Friday said the intervention program like the one held in Elizabeth City years ago continues to be done periodically in the region.

“And in fact, we’re open to doing that in pretty much any community that asks us to in the eastern district of North Carolina,” Acker said. “We not only have law enforcement there but we have religious leaders, we have health professionals, we have mental health professionals, we have places for them to get jobs.

“It’s a holistic approach where we say, ‘Look, you’ve got a choice,’” he added.

At the same time, Acker made clear the problem of ongoing violence and his office’s policy of taking seriously those cases of convicted felons having been charged with possession of a firearm.

“And so we tell them, if you’re caught with a gun, you’re going to be in federal prison. And you’re going to be there for probably five years, maybe 10 years, because we’ve got to stop the violence on the streets,” Acker said.