Firefighting a second chance for young inmateson August 20, 2012 @ 4:34 am (Updated: 11:12 am - 8/20/12 )
These young men have a choice to make. They can embrace the hard work, long hours and tough conditions and change their direction or decide that being criminals is how they want to spend their lives.
Meet the inmates of the Naselle Youth Camp. They go to school during the regular year at the medium security facility in Southwest Washington and fight fires around the state in the summer.
Most of them wouldn't tell me what landed them in this situation. They only said they had made some bad choices in life. One 17-year-old inmate told me, "I was going in and out of the court system and finally the court got tired of seeing me and just sent me to Naselle."
Fighting fires gets these guys out of the facility for a few months and teaches them skills like working in the firefighter's kitchen and how to fight fires. It changes their attitudes.
A 17-year-old inmate said it's helping him finish school and get some job skills. "I feel good saving some forest and saving, maybe some people's lives even."
An 18-year-old inmate who has about two months left on his sentence said this experience has taught him about trust.
"Building some character, you know," he said. "And teamwork. You can't just get the job done by yourself. It's teaching a lot of skills."
Cary Bloom is directing the Naselle Youth Camp inmates at the Taylor Bridge fire near Cle Elum.
"You meet some fantastic kids out here," he said standing at the fire camp. "You get some great personalities and great kids that are going to do some really good things in life and just need a second chance."
Some will re-offend, even after going through this program. Most others will not.
"I'm not coming back," one 18-year-old inmate told me. "I'm cool. I want to work."
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