Boot camp grads seek strength in numbers Self-help group aims to counter the streets

August 04, 1991|By Michael J. Clark

Two weeks after finishing a rigorous, Marine Corps-style boot camp for convicted criminals, 20-year-old David Boynton was out on the streets of Baltimore still searching for a job.

Yesterday, he was one of 16 young men who showed up at a meeting called by Delegate Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, to start a self-help group for the Baltimore-area graduates of the state-run camp, the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Camp in Jessup.

The innovative correctional program begun in August 1990 is intended to promote self-discipline, self-esteem and a work ethic among the inmates.

As a result of the training, Mr. Boynton said, "I got my values right. I realized that I didn't value my life and was not thinking of my three young kids. My life has straightened out, and my kids are now real important to me."

He and the other camp graduates came to the Enoch Pratt Library yesterday to meet with church and community leaders, officials with the state Department of Probation and Parole and with Employment Services, and the boot camp commander, Maj. Robert E. Clay. The graduates hope a self-help group will help them continue their progress.

Mr. Cummings said he envisions the group as "a weekly support group that will keep you strong when you face the temptations of the streets."

"This is something I can buy into because it seems so positive," said Mr. Boynton of the 2600 block of Preston Street. He had volunteered for boot camp after being convicted for drug dealing.

Since graduating, he has been turned down for jobs at a hotel and the Baltimore Convention Center. He plans to interview for a job at a fast- food restaurant this week, and is awaiting the results of his high school equivalency test.

Darryl Foote, also a drug offender, said his platoon of 39 men made "a pact at boot camp that we would continue to have some kind of unity among each other, and this group can help us stay in better contact and help each other."

Mr. Foote, 24, of the first block of South Poppleton Street has found a job at an Inner Harbor hotel as a service attendant. The boot camp training, he said, "turned me around. I had a bad dTC attitude before. Now, I have better values. I am more punctual and more assertive."

He said he got in trouble because "all I once wanted to do was use and sell drugs and affiliate with those kind of people. Now, that has stopped. I don't smoke and I don't use drugs, and I have no intention of dealing with that drug crowd again."

Major Clay said 330 men incarcerated for non-violent crimes have gone through the boot camp training, and five of them have committed crimes since graduating. Thirty percent have used drugs, in violation of their probation, he said.

Major Clay said that the boot camp approach has been successful, but that "it is a war we are fighting, and there will be casualties."

The camp commander said he asked inmates how they could go without drugs during the six-month boot camp, then drift back to drug abuse when they got out.

"They told me the environment they return to is more addictive than the drugs," he said. "They said they were constantly bombarded by family and friends to use drugs. It's the environment."

The support group is an attempt to combat that, Mr. Cummings said. "When some of you feel you are getting weak, others can rally to support you."

Nearly all the graduates present said they would attend Saturday's meeting, and Major Clay said more graduates are expected to attend.

Mr. Cummings, who is chairman of the Governor's Commission on Black Males, told the boot camp graduates that they "can become a force in this city and state. They can become a cadre of positive role models for other young men. From what I learned this week, we have more black males in Baltimore graduating from prisons than graduating from high schools and colleges. If this was happening in white America, the president and Congress would consider it a national emergency."

Mr. Cummings said he believed that sending the graduates back to their old communities after six months of training and discipline was not enough.

"It is like cleaning someone up and then throwing them back in the mud. In a weekly support group, they can share experiences and continue the buddy system so they can continue the comradeship they found at boot camp. They want to do the right thing, and they need support at this time in their lives."

How to hire

Employers with job openings for boot camp graduates may call the camp commander, Maj. Robert E. Clay, at 799-4040.

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