Blue and Gold In a New Light

In this town, one could say that uniforms are ubiquitous. We usually associate the crisp white or navy blue uniforms---depending on the season or the occasion---with the midshipmen of the Naval Academy. But there are other uniforms you're likely to see in Annapolis, worn by the young men working in and around the State House and the Governor's Mansion. Their uniforms are bright blue and gold, the colors of the Maryland Division of Correction, and they're worn by the inmates of the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp, otherwise known as "boot campers."

According to Cmdr. Brenda M. Shell, "The uniforms represent the boot camp as a distinct entity within the Division of Correction. [The use of uniforms] limits individuality and makes everyone an equal. It also makes a person easy to identify."

The boot campers, in this setting, are a privileged group of young men who have been chosen for the State House "detail." Says Custody Manager Maj. Carroll Parrish, "All of the guys who work at the State House are non-violent offenders. In the first phase of their training, they go through a Marine Corps-style boot camp with intense instruction and supervision to help them develop self-discipline. After that, we select the best inmates of the group and send those men to Annapolis. We also select the best officers to accompany them."

The State House detail is composed of 10 to 12 men. The staff of the Department of General Services assigns a certain number to work on the grounds of the State House, where their responsibilities include shoveling snow or raking leaves or assisting in general cleanup and landscaping. Inside the State House, other inmates are supervised by a corrections officer. Two more are assigned to the Governor's Mansion and supervised by the Maryland State Police.

Each weekday throughout the year, the inmates are brought to Annapolis from Toulson Boot Camp in Jessup. "I used to take the detail down myself," says Maj. Parrish. "We know where the inmates are at all times and we maintain good communication with the representatives from the Maryland State Police and the Department of General Services. The State Police also do checks on the inmates." Asst. Cmdr. Charles Santa explains, "Public perception is important, and public safety is taken into consideration, first and foremost."

The distinct blue and gold uniforms make the inmates quite visible to the residents and tourists who enjoy walking around State Circle. Says Maj. Parrish, "When I used to take details down to the State House, we would march through the building and the tourists would say, 'Who are those men? What branch of the service are they in?' They were very surprised to hear my reply." He adds, "The guys are motivated because they're being productive. They feel good about being at the State House and sometimes get to meet public officials." Maj. Parrish recalls when one of the inmates met a delegate on the State House elevator and ended up inviting him to graduation.

Although there are women in the boot camper program, the heavy work of the State House detail precludes their participation. The inmates are often assigned to do some of the more onerous tasks at the State House. Large, cumbersome pieces of furniture must be moved in and out, often without the benefit of an elevator---and there's always lots of brass to polish. Says Cmdr. Shell, "Believe it or not, we get lots of requests [for their help.] It's hard for us to keep up with the demand."

Recently, the 5th Regiment Armory Maryland National Guard observed the boot campers at the State House and requested a detail for their own facility. When you're driving on the highway, you may see both male and female inmates doing cleanup for the State Highway Administration. You may also see them helping to prepare for baseball season at Camden Yards, at the annual Polar Bear Plunge, the Annapolis Seafood Festival, the Blues Festival, and at Maryland Special Olympics.

If all this sounds like casual work, we are reminded that these young boot camp inmates (average age is from 22-24 years old) train 16 hours a day for 180 days. Every waking hour is utilized in a productive manner, with no idle time, no recreational television, radios, newspapers or magazines. A typical day begins with a 5 a.m. wake-up, followed by breakfast, sick call, clean-up, physical training, and barracks inspection. By the time the boot campers arrive in Annapolis or at their other details, they've been up for hours.

Toulson Boot Camp is regarded as one of the very best in the country. It is commanded by a woman, well-qualified by her master's degree in criminal justice (with plans to complete her juris doctor degree) and by her personal experience as "mom, grandmother and foster mom."

Shell describes the boot campers program in her characteristic gentle, understated manner. " In August 1990, Gov. William Donald Schaefer officially dedicated the boot camp." Developed with the objective of making it the best unit of its kind in America, she says, "The boot camp was designed to be an alternative to incarceration." Social workers, along with substance abuse authorities from the Division of Correction developed the counseling and substance abuse aspects of the program while educational staff from the Division of the Maryland Department of Education worked together to devise the educational aspects of the program.

Correctional officers were hand picked to staff the new boot camp. All had superior service records with the Division of Correction and nearly all were former U.S. Marines or had served with other branches of the armed services. The United State Marine Corps provided intensive training to the initial group of drill instructors at its Officer's Candidate School in Quantico, Va.

The boot camp program has three goals. The first is to help alleviate prison overcrowding. This is accomplished by providing the means for selected inmates to be released after completion of six months of intensive incarceration experience.

The second goal is to encourage inmates to become responsible, productive citizens and to provide them with the necessary resources to do so. The boot camp is designed to be a positive environment for human development where individuals can help themselves and each other. It uses a strict physical and military regimen for the purpose of keeping inmates motivated and focused on making behavioral changes and confronting attitudes which are destructive.

The third goal is to create a more positive environment for both inmates and the correctional employees who operate the boot camp. Toulson Boot Camp is a non-contact program where employees lead by personal example and act as role models and mentors to the inmate population.

In order to graduate from the boot camp, all inmates must successfully complete programs in military drill; physical training; academic education, with a focus on helping inmates obtain a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, and providing special education services to those who qualify; "Network," a problem solving and decisionmaking program; addiction education; and skills training.

According to Shell, "[Toulson Boot Camp] is a leader of boot camps in the nation because of the well-balanced structure it provides. A lot of boot camps focus primarily on the military structure with an emphasis on physical activity. At this boot camp, we balance that structure with other aspects of programming. A very important piece is the GED program. The success rate is extremely high, with a significant number of inmates achieving their GED upon completion of the program."

In addition to the GED program, Toulson Boot Camp provides college courses in psychology and history---even an eight-week certificate course in fiber-optics for those who have already attained a high school diploma or GED. The courses are taught on site in partnership with Anne Arundel Community College, which provides instructors, certificates of completion and job placement for those inmates who complete the courses. With a sense of pride, Cmdr. Shell mentions that "at least one ex-inmate went on to become an instructor at Anne Arundel Community College."

For the inmates unable to achieve their GED, the boot camp offers a certificate in life skills. Says Shell, "Most of the inmates come into the program at an educational level that is raised by at least two [levels] in a six-month period." Educators from the State Department of Education provide inmates with instruction in basic computer skills, parenting and job readiness.

In addition, avocational instruction in building construction skills is offered, including hands-on training in carpentry, electrical work, even some plumbing and HVAC. The results? What started as a storage shed constructed by the inmates is being converted into additional classroom space. Says Shell, "this program has enabled the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to save about $2.5 million. We've gone on site to do work and repairs for the Division of Pre-Trial Detention and Services, done building projects for the supermax facility, the Maryland State Police and home detention---and the list goes on."

The Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp has aroused interest in its program model from as far away as Denmark. Closer to home, Cmdr. Shell is pursuing a partnership with Baltimore City on a transitional jobs project. Says Sister Gwynette Proctor, who heads the project for the city, "I was impressed immediately with Cmdr. Shell's vision for the men and women who come through the boot camp. She sees beyond institutional confinement and has a dream for them. People like her are an essential link in the process. She knows the wisdom of such an effort."

Cmdr. Shell might measure the success of the program in this way: "I see the individuals who leave here worshiping in my church. These men and women are going home.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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