While other boys his age were learning how to shave, preparing for the state driver’s exam and daydreaming about girls, Matt was spending most of his time in jail.
“I didn’t care about myself,” said the 17-year-old boy. His rap sheet includes convictions for first-degree theft, vehicle prowl and burglary.
But thanks to a new rehabilitation program that blends moral reasoning with military regimen, Matt may be learning to turn his life around.
Matt and 18 other teenage boys - all convicted felons - are the first to undergo an intensive 120-day stay at the Second Chance boot camp in the heart of the Columbia Basin.
The medium-security facility is the first of its kind in Washington. The program is more intense than traditional juvenile institutions, said Dave Griffith of the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.
The boot camp is the latest venture for Second Chance, a private, nonprofit Seattle company that contracts with state and federal agencies to provide rehabilitation programs for convicts.
Founded in 1978, the organization also operates juvenile group homes in Olympia, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, and adult work release programs in Seattle and Spokane.
Second Chance opened the Connell camp in April to provide juvenile offenders with an alternative to being locked in a state institution. Participation is voluntary and restricted to teenagers who have been sentenced to 18 months or less. Violent and sexual offenders aren’t eligible.
“This program does help,” asserted Ryan, a 17-year-old trainee whose convictions include burglary, vehicle theft and simple assault.
“It does help people change. If a person isn’t willing to change, they won’t. But if they have it in their mind, they will change,” he said.
From the outside, the camp looks like a circus or some sort of mobile day-care center. If not for the razor wire fence surrounding the facility, it might be mistaken as such.
The young offenders, called trainees, wake each day at 5:30 a.m. They make their beds, shower - grooming is minimal since faces and heads are shaved clean - and dress in military garb.
Then they undergo a physical exercise routine, salute the flag and march to breakfast.
The remainder of the day is filled with four hours of classes, using curriculum from the Franklin School District; special programs in moral restructuring, victim awareness, drug treatment and anger management; vocational training; occasional work crews and more military drills.
Evenings are reserved for writing in the required journals. Bedtime is 10 p.m.
Second Chance staff plan to make the day even longer. Starting this summer, the teens will be up at 4:30 a.m.
The combination of military training and counseling makes the program effective, Second Chance staff said. The whole idea of the camp is to reshape the boys physically and mentally.
“They give us tools, but it’s up to us to use them,” Matt said.
If the camp proves successful, it’s likely the program will be duplicated in Washington state and elsewhere, Griffith said.
Boot camps are popular with lawmakers because they are less expensive to operate than traditional correctional institutions.
Ken Maaz, CEO of Second Chance, estimated the average cost of housing an offender at the boot camp is $118 to $120 a day.
By comparison, the cost of housing a teen in a state facility is about $125 per day. Sentences are typically a year.
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