Boot camp graduates show new pride of achievement But true test comes back on old streets


Since Jessup's Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp opened a year ago, dozens of street toughs facing hard time in prison have opted for the rigorous way of life behind its barbed-wire fence.

For some, life there is even tougher than the crime-ridden streets where a youth can make a fast and easy living selling drugs and stealing. Some quit, and others are thrown out of the program. Both groups return to prison to serve sentences of up to five years.

But most -- more than 350 in the past year -- complete the training.

The boot camp marked its first anniversary yesterday with its eighth graduation -- 37 young men who, like their predecessors, received early parole after completing six months of discipline and physical training and mastering academic and decision-making courses.

While serving time in the camp, about 75 percent of the inmates who dropped out of high school obtain a general education diploma.

Yesterday, the faces of the young men in blue showed hard lines etched by violent pasts -- faces that took on a new look of pride as they snapped back their shoulders, pulled in their guts and stuck out their chins.

It is a feeling of accomplishment that few of them have known before. But they will pass the true test when they leave the camp's steel fence and return to their old neighborhoods.

Like many, Dontaye McCree, 18, was lured into the drug trade of his West Baltimore neighborhood by the promise of slick clothes, jewelry, cars and girls. He followed in the footsteps of an older brother serving time at the Maryland House of Correction for drug dealing.

But McCree got a chance his brother did not. After he had served seven months at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, a counselor recommended him for boot camp.

McCree admits candidly that what he needed was "a lot of discipline and a little self-control."

"Before, this inmate didn't care about nothing. This inmate lived day to day," he said, speaking in the camp way that forces him to focus on his actions, and not himself.

"This inmate knows he's going to have a whole lot of temptation when he goes back home -- the same old dirty streets, the same old people. This inmate doesn't want to live that ay anymore," he said. "This inmate knows he's got to be strong."

Maj. Robert E. Clay, a former Marine who is commander of the boot camp, said leaders try to teach the inmates how to be men and accept responsibility, and that means understanding the many lives they destroy by selling drugs.

"They say that you're supposed to be responsible at the age of 21, but it takes more than age to be a man," Major Clay said.

"If they can't understand the impact of their actions, then they can't understand why they are here and the circumstances that will keep them from coming back."

Even though inmates don't get a second chance at Toulson, their odds of succeeding at boot camp are better than in prison, where about 22 percent of the inmates return after committing new crimes.

Major Clay said 2 percent of boot camp graduates have committed crimes on parole that have landed them back in prison.

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