Camp Outlook: Teens begin 4-month stint at state's only military-style boot camp for jailed juveniles

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldJune 28, 2014 

CONNELL -- Shouts echoed down a gravel road in a desolate area of Connell as a group of teenage criminals in chains filed off a bus and into the small compound they would call home for the summer.

A swarm of drill instructors in military uniforms waited as the four boys stepped into the hot sun. Their shackles were removed, heads were buzzed and a strip of duct tape bearing their last name was slapped onto the back of their sweatshirts.

The drill instructors rocked back and forth as they hollered commands just inches from the boys' faces. The shouts and occasional spew of spittle were nerve-jarring.

The grueling initiation to the teens' four-month stay at Camp Outlook -- the state's only military-style boot camp for jailed juveniles -- had begun. They now would be known as Platoon 3-14.

"There's no homies here. There's no more just one of you," a woman drill instructor told them. "You are a team now."

A chance to change

The boys arrived in early May from a medium-security facility near Wilipa Bay.

The eight-acre Camp Outlook compound is surrounded by a razor wire-topped chain-link fence and sits in the shadow of Coyote Ridge prison.

Each teen walking off the bus carried a hatred for authority, gang ties and an affinity for life on the streets. They grew up in different parts of the state, and some were rival gang members.

But all chose to attend the camp for a chance to change their lives.

Camp Outlook is designed to rehabilitate young offenders and prepare them to move back into society.

The intensive program, part of Pioneer Human Services, blends the structure and physical training of the Marine Corps with education, behavioral and moral recognition therapy and social and job skills.

It results in the lowest recidivism rate of any juvenile facility in the state, according to Pioneer.

Inside the barracks, the teens stood on small red squares taped to the floor, struggling to recite four basic rules displayed on a white board a few feet away.

Less than an hour into the initiation process, their voices had grown hoarse and the smugness they once displayed had vanished. Sweat began to soak the backs of their shirts as they went from push-up position to standing at attention.

"Your feet will go to a 45-degree angle," a drill instructor yelled. "Your hips and shoulders will be squared to the front. Your hands will be in a fist with your thumbs out."

Tears began to form in some of their eyes as they tried to straightened their backs and puff out their chests standing at attention. Others clenched their fists and looked ready to take a swing at someone.

The combat-tested drill instructors, with multiple deployments overseas and purple hearts under their belts, only yelled louder.

"Your chest will be lifted. Your head will be up and your chin will be tucked," the drill instructor continued. "You will not move, you will not talk. The only thing you will do while at attention is bleed, breathe and blink."

By the end of the first night, everyone in Platoon 3-14 admitted the thought of quitting entered their minds.

Physical and mental scars

The camp's newest trainees already had faced more obstacles than most will in a lifetime -- homelessness, addiction, abuse, abandonment and poverty. Many barely made it out of middle school.

Some had not only physical scars from gang fights and bullets, but also mental gashes from watching their moms get beaten, seeing parents in prison and feeling the pain of not having anyone who cares.

Beneath their hardened exterior, each teen has a compelling story and a vision of what his life could one day be like.

John, a transplant from Micronesia, is a bulldog with a softer side that is sometimes overshadowed by an explosive temper. The Longview 15-year-old came to Camp Outlook with a history of assault and an intense loyalty to a gang he says he's not ready to give up.

"(The gang) means a lot to me, you know," he said. "I don't ever think about quitting."

Tyler, 16, has been in foster care for most of his life, bouncing from home to home.

Many in his family have done prison stints, and the Puyallup teen said he isn't afraid of ending up there one day. He's clean-cut with piercing eyes and is a self-proclaimed master manipulator.

A history of stealing, fighting and assaulting a police officer got him locked up. Tyler said he has family he stays in contact with and wants to show them he can graduate from the camp.

"It's hard for this trainee to drop the lockup mentality," he said. "I built fear and intimidation into people."

While in isolation, Daniel started to teach himself high school-level math from a textbook.

The 17-year-old seems to be a deep thinker and said he let the gang life consume him at an early age.

A problem with authority led the Tri-City teen to drop out before high school, choosing the streets instead. But he still dreams of going to school one day to be an underwater welder.

"This trainee came for a purpose. This trainee holds himself to a higher standard," Daniel said. "I tell myself every day when I wake up that I have the power to change myself."

Paulo, 18, got locked up for pulling a gun during a dispute when he was a juvenile. He has been shot and stabbed, and survived by selling drugs on the streets of California.

The Vancouver, Wash., teen says he wants to make the most of a second chance after a .22-caliber bullet just missed his heart. The last year and a half behind bars has allowed him to get clean and mend the relationship with his father.

"This trainee is thankful he got locked up," he said.

Determined to succeed

After more than a month at the camp, the members of Platoon 3-14 had experienced both failure and success.

Daniel and Paulo have separated themselves from the pack. Both have stepped into leadership roles within the platoon, stayed out of trouble and bought into the rigorous program.

Daniel is a squad leader and Paulo has worked on self-esteem issues and shed extra weight.

John and Tyler have shown improvement since arriving at camp, although they continue to have disciplinary issues, including regular outbursts that get them physically restrained by drill instructors.

Paulo, Daniel and John have completed the first stage of the program, called the "green bean" phase, which focuses on introducing the teens to the camp's model. They are on track to graduate on time.

Tyler, however, is on the verge of explosion and has not moved to the second phase of the program, camp staff said. If he has any more major disciplinary issues, he will be kicked out.

The second phase is more physically demanding, and challenges platoon members to start applying the skills they learned during their first month.

All four of the teens told the Herald they are determined to prove to themselves and others that they can finish the program. That includes Tyler.

"This trainee is not going to quit on himself," Tyler said.

"I could be at a group home, but I chose to be here. I want to try."

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