Boot Camps Lose Early Swagger: For This Offender, Camp Worked

David J. Krajicek
November 1, 1999

In the summer of 1989, a South Carolina teenager named Troy Cmar was offered the option of 90 days in a correctional boot camp or a 15-year sentence in state prison after he was convicted in adult court in a spree of vandalism and break-ins.

Cmar (pronounced “Smar”) chose the camp and was assigned to the Wateree River Correctional Institution in Rembert. On day one he was deloused, shorn of his waist-length hair and subjected to rants by camp personnel.

“This is weird,” Cmar told Dana Priest of The Washington Post for a story published June 25, 1989. “I’ll never steal anything again.”

Ten years later, Youth Today tracked down Cmar in Bonneau, S.C., to ask whether he had kept his vow.

“No, sir, I haven’t gotten in any trouble since then,” he says. “And I can tell you it’s been 10 years, but I still think about it [boot camp] almost every day. It was rough. They was on your behind every minute.”

Cmar is married. He and his wife, Melissa, own a home and have two young children. He has worked for seven years at a Georgia-Pacific plywood factory not far from his home. Now 29, Cmar admits that he was a hellion teenager: a drug-abusing law-breaker who, with a group of other delinquents, vandalized a church and committed numerous burglaries and larcenies.

Cmar beat long odds by going straight. Statistics say roughly seven out of 10 adults and eight of 10 juveniles who complete correctional boot camps are rearrested.

What set Cmar straight? “It had something to do with growing up, but it had a lot to do with the boot camp,” he says. “I was young, and I hung around with the wrong people. I think it finally opened my eyes that everybody’s got a purpose in life. It’s not about doing drugs and stealing. They taught us to get up early and work hard. I think it taught me to get the most out of life by trying to do the right thing ... If I had gone into prison, I would have never changed.”

Rough Regimen

Cmar endured the primitive early model of correctional boot camps. In The Washington Post story, a 23-year-old camp “field officer” — a college student working there as a summer job was quoted as saying, “The first month you’re trying to break them. They’re like a pack of dogs, dogs that are trying to nip at you. The harder it tries, the harder you push them down.”

In those days before juvenile boots camps, hundreds of teenagers like Cmar went through adult camps. The Rembert facility took young men ages 17 to 24. Forty young men began the camp with Cmar, and 21 finished.

The camp used the still-popular system of graduated privileges as inmates advanced monthly from first platoon to second and third. Cmar says that during the first month, he was denied shampoo and deodorant.

A decade later, Cmar can recount in detail the boot camp regimen: reveille at 4 a.m., physical training, barracks clean-up, breakfast, morning labor, brief lunch break, afternoon labor, a shower, dinner and more physical training before lights out. Education was subordinate — a few GED training hours after dinner.

According to the accounting of South Carolina authorities, taxpayers got a bargain in Cmar’s rehabilitation. It cost $25 a day to keep him in the boot camp, $10 per day less than prison, for a total of $2,250 for his 90 days in custody. Had he served just five years in prison (one-third of the 15-year sentence), the cost to taxpayers would have been $64,000.

Cmar says a boot camp experience should be mandatory for everyone coming out of high school because that is where he learned about such things as morality, discipline, organization and personal cleanliness.

But Barry Holman, director of research and public policy for the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, says military-style camps are not the best place to teach those “life skills.”

“You can’t disagree with his story,” Holman says, “but listen to what he has to say: While he was in camp he was taught things he hadn’t been taught before — a work ethic, discipline, morals, the value of education. We should have done a better job by teaching him those things before he got in trouble.”

And Holman adds, “Remember that he is an out-of-the-ordinary anecdote. Most kids do re-offend.

Krajicek, David J. "Boot Camps Lose Early Swagger: For This Offender, Camp Worked." Youth Today, November 1999, p. 35.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.