People make choices every day -- what to wear, what to eat, when to go to sleep.
And sometimes those choices are more significant than others -- whether to take a new job, who to marry, whether to move or not.
But for the 15 people sitting in the rows of the council chambers at City Hall in downtown Goldsboro Tuesday night, the choices they make in the coming days could mean life or death, freedom or prison.
And if they make the wrong choice, the justice system will decide their fate for them.
Those 15 people were called into the council chambers for Goldsboro Partners Against Crime to be notified that the gig is up, that this is their last chance -- if they commit another crime, they will be fast-tracked in the courts and punished severely.
"We just had an election, if you didn't notice, and since then, the federal government has decided to order me and all my colleagues to charge you with the most serious offense possible," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Kurosad. "We have no choice any more. And because we don't have any choice any more, you don't have any choice any more."
Originally, 17 people were supposed to hear the severe warning being given to them by Kurosad and his justice system colleagues.
But in an eerie echo of exactly what the program is designed to prevent, one person was arrested and put in jail before Tuesday night and another went to rehab.
Each person called in to be notified has a history of committing violent or drug-related crimes or associating with those who do.
While the warning from law enforcement was severe, it wasn't all doom and gloom -- community members shared stories of both tragedy and hope, of love and redemption.
Craig Doubt Jr. and Teresa Cox shared the stories of how they each lost a son to gun violence.
Both were shot from behind -- one in the back of the head, one in the back with the bullet ripping straight through his heart.
They urged each person being notified to stop, before it's too late -- before they, too, have to bury their own children or force their parents to bury them.
Then each offender heard from two speakers who have been there, done that and turned their lives around.
Lisa Tindal, now 45, held her most recent mugshot up for all to see.
"You guys have heard from law enforcement, probation -- I'm actually one of you," Tindal said. "I'm the most-known felon in this room. I'm a level three habitual felon, been to prison 10 times and spent more time in prison than out of prison."
Tindal said she's been part of pretty much every hustle there is -- she's been a drug dealer, gun runner, a booster and more.
Like many, she didn't think she would get caught.
But every time the party ended, she was alone.
She held up her motion of discovery from a case against her -- a folder several inches thick -- that was filled with "friends" who flipped on her when it came time to save their own necks.
"The most important thing I wanted you to know is that the people I was down with, all my friends, decided their life was more important than mine," Tindal said.
Tindal said she learned, when she came out of prison, that it is easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing, because there is no right way to do the wrong thing.
"I know now I might just look like the average, fat, middle-aged white woman -- I was a crackhead, I was a crack dealer, I was a gun distributor, I ran back and forth from New York, I've been to Florida, I've been to Tulsa, Oklahoma -- I did all the things that everybody thought was the happening thing to do," Tindal said. "Nothing replaced the time that I lost."
To finish the night, the offenders heard from pastor Marvin Alexander, a new community outreach resource for the program to help people get their lives back on track.
Alexander is there to help people find jobs, get an education -- do anything else they need -- so long as they make the choice to change.
He said the only difference between him and someone doing a long sentence was the grace of God.
"I'm a pastor now, but I wasn't always one," Alexander said. "I want you to understand that where you are right now is not where you've got to be. The choice is yours."