Penal boot camp holds promise of release

October 12, 1990|By James Bock

Tyranny was the word, and teacher Maxine Hurley asked inmates at Maryland's first military-style prison boot camp to define it yesterday.

One member of 2nd Platoon Alpha raised his hand during the classroom vocabulary drill, was recognized, stood at attention and said: "One ruler ruling over all others, ma'am."

Others followed: "Sort of like a czar, ma'am." "A devil, ma'am." "A dictator, ma'am."

But not one boot camp inmate thought -- or dared -- to mention their drill instructors, under whose thumbs they will march, eat, study and hit the deck for push-ups for six months.

Maryland's prison officials showed off yesterday their latest attempt to reduce prison crowding and cut recidivism: the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp in Jessup.

The 2-month-old experiment, named for a Maryland Penitentiary guard slain by an inmate in 1984, has produced a corps of 126 spit-shining, high-stepping volunteers who follow their instructors' barked orders from 5 a.m. reveille to 9 p.m. taps.

Sit down too quickly for lunch and Sgt. Eddie Hargrove, a strapping former Mr. Maryland, or Sgt. Valentino Savage, a whip of a man with a tongue that lashes, will be in your face.

John Godwin, a 19-year-old burglar from East Baltimore, cursed yesterday morning and spent three hours on the rock pile, carrying stones back and forth across the boot camp yard.

Andrew Norman, 19, a Highlandtown auto thief, wore his cap wrong and did "incentive physical training" -- what instructors call "burning you up" -- until he was out of breath.

"You have to get that street out of them, then get that jail living out of them," Sergeant Hargrove said. "The majority don't have any discipline, morals or values, and that's what we're trying to instill."

Of course, there's a luscious carrot with this stick: Prisoners with sentences of up to five years can be paroled in six months if they aren't booted out of boot camp. The first platoon of 46 inmates has been whittled down to 36 since the camp opened Aug. 6.

The hastened releases coincide neatly with the Division of Correction's desperate need to ease its crowding crisis. The inmate population stood yesterday at 17,035, near the all-time high, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a spokesman. Plans call for the boot camp to expand to 288 inmates.

Whether military-style discipline will make the criminals better citi

zens -- or merely put them back on the street before their appointed time -- is anybody's guess.

Maj. Robert E. Clay, the boot camp's commander, concedes that it will be a couple of years before the experiment's success can be measured.

But he said: "Even a blind man could see there's a big difference. When you go to regular prison, there's nothing as intense as this to give individuals a whole new outlook on life."

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the inmates were quick to echo the commander.

Stanford Payne, 23, of Southwest Baltimore, who was facing a 3 1/2 -year sentence for heroin distribution, said: "The time really didn't matter, sir. I just needed the counseling. That's the main reason I came, sir. All you can do in prison is lay around, sir."

And M. A. Tilghman, a 19-year-old from East Baltimore who said he once bought silk clothes and a new Volvo with his cocaine profits, said boot camp would mend his materialistic ways.

Boot camp staff members, many of whom underwent rigorous Marine training at Quantico, Va., to prepare for the job, say they like the strict regimen.

"I love this boot camp environment," said Lt. Bradley P. Barthlow, a 14-year prison system veteran. "It's the first time we can do something positive with the inmates. We have control for one thing, telling inmates what to do and not getting back talk."

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