Richland County, SC (WLTX) - Parents in Richland County are giving teens a taste of what jail is really like and it is a big eye opener for many.
The R.E.A.D.Y Program is one of Sheriff Leon Lott's "hands on" ideas. It stands for Richland County Educating and Deterring Youth and started in the summer of 2009.
Parents volunteer their children to spend a night in jail. It is not any form of legal punishment. However, it is an experience the teens will not soon forget. News19 tagged along with the teens on a Friday night a few weeks ago.
The second their parents drop them off at the sheriff's department, the hand cuffs are tightened. It does not take long for the teens to find out the comforts of home have never felt so far away.
"We felt this would be the best track for him to get his life back on track, where he needs to be," said parent Dene Roeglin.
Roeglin dropped off 15-year-old Dazeron Miller. She is hoping the experience is life changing. "The road he's going down is not a very good road."
"A lot of times these kids say anything they want to adults without regard to the possible consequences. Once they come with us, they realize that's not going to be tolerated at all," said Richland County Investigator Gerald Walls.
After deputies give them a ride over to the jail, the R.E.A.D.Y Program goes into full swing.
"Get out of the van, get out of the van!" one deputy yelled. "Hold up, put em' back on the van. When I tell you to get your nasty butts off the van, you run, do I make myself clear?" he continued.
In about a year and half, 350 kids have come through the program. Many of them come because they have gotten into some sort of trouble. One of the kids at the program we attended has been caught bringing a gun to school.
In no short time, the teens are doing drills. "You can do whatever you want to do, but you cannot beat me!" yelled one officer at a teen he perceived is not working as hard he could.
Then the teens are sent to their prison cells for the first time.
"A lot of these kids watch the videos on TV that make the thug life and goin to jail seem glamorous," said Walls.
"How'd that feel right there?" One officer asked Dazeron after he came out of his cell.
"Not good sir," Dazeron replied.
Next, the teens are able to sit and listen to a man who knows prison life first hand.
"You not as tough as you think you is. What's tough? Finish school, go to college. To me that's gangster," he told them.
It is just hour number two and the message for Dazeron is already sinking in. "When I get outta here I'm gonna have a twinkle in my eye and I can't do nothing else bad," he told News19.
He said he is ready to go home and he hopes his dad can pick him up early.
"When I get outta here, never come back, never go to prison, go to college, never do nothing bad in school, never steal, never do something I ain't supposed to do."
Soon the teens are back to doing drills over and over again. Many of them struggle to complete them.
"Pride, respect, integrity, determination and enthusiasm," one officer made them repeat over and over. The teens will learn very well these five characteristics by the end of the night.
After a long and grueling set of exercises, the teens get to line up for water. However, a number of them forget to say thanks for the cup they are given, and instead of a water break, they all have to do more drills.
"Don't quit! That's the problem. When things get hard you wanna quit," yelled one officer at Dazeron, who was one of the teens who forgot to say thank you.
"I don't ever want to come back here again," he told News19.
The teens are given a bag lunch with a sandwich Dazeron decides he will not eat. He said it smelled bad. Soon the teens will have to do more drills and then finally have the chance to sit and write a letter of apology to their parents. Each minute seems to last an hour, and the night is an extremely long one.
The kids are left to sleep alone on top of a concrete slab inside their personal cells.
As the kids sit alone and reflect, Dazeron said his life is going to change. He wanted to start by giving his parents a sincere apology.
"Yeah I would tell 'em again and that time I'll mean it," he said.
Three weeks after his experience, Dazeron's parents said they have seen a significant change in his attitude and effort in school.
If you would like to learn more about the program, you can sign your teen up at the Richland County Sheriff's Department. You can also call 803-518-4127.