Six boys got a taste of what life could be like behind bars Friday night when they participated in the second round of Horry County’s new program for at-risk youth called “Succeed Overcome Achieve Re-educate.”
The 12-hour program spearheaded by the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and designed for boys ages 12-16 got underway at 3:30 p.m. at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center as the small cluster of wayward boys dressed out in prison jumpsuits, did exercises and were then shackled and marched to a van. They were transported to cells at the Horry County Courthouse in Conway to do more workouts and endure more loud commands.
After rounds of jumping jacks, push-ups and other exercises just outside the jail, the boys were taken to a lengthy hallway inside the courthouse where the program’s volume was turned up. The shouts from instructors echoed off the walls of the more-narrow space as some boys dissolved into tears.
One boy broke down and was taken aside by Sgt. Robert Butler, one of the main creators of the program. Butler firmly gave him the strength he needed to keep going after the boy had begun to waiver during an exercise.
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“I promise you after tonight, after you accomplish tonight, you can accomplish anything,” Butler said.
I promise you after tonight, after you accomplish tonight, you can accomplish anything.
Sgt. Robert Butler, S.O.A. R. program organizer
The boy repeated that he believed in himself.
“You can do this,” Butler said. “Believe in yourself. I believe in you,” he said, his words recharging the weary youth who rejoined the others with a newfound strength.
During the program, the boys undergo hours of on-again, off-again exercise and endure shouting before they are built back up by instructors and counselors who then talk one-on-one about the issues they may be struggling with, along with giving them support and encouragement.
The boys also listen to motivational speakers and are given time to rest and reflect during their night behind bars.
“If you break the body down first, the mind will follow and then, when your body is broken, then your mind is open and susceptible to different ideas, and that’s when the counselor comes in and we plant you want to be a leader, you need to be a leader, you are a leader, I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your face,” Butler told media before the group arrived Friday afternoon.
Each participant must undergo a sports physical, clearing them for activity during the program, and EMS is also there just in case there are any medical issues arise, Butler and other organizers said.
The course is an off-shoot of a similar four-hour juvenile diversion program. Butler and co-creator Cpl. Harold “Corky” Connor, who both work with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, said they recognized a more in-depth program was needed for some of the troubled youths they were seeing.
Butler, Connor, and Horry County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tom Fox, all stressed the program, modeled after a similar one in Richland County, is not like “Scared Straight” programs out there.
S.O.A.R. doesn’t involve jail inmates, and while organizers want participants to see the hard reality of where they could be headed, they strive to elevate their self-esteems and to remain in their lives after that long, hard night in jail, Butler and Connor said.
Parents also are involved in the program and must attend a two- to three-hour workshop while their children undergo the course. Parents and children then come together for mediation in the week following the program to work out their differences with counselors.
The program, which runs once a month and is based on referrals, is designed for at-risk youth who are having issues at home and/or at school or who have already had run-ins with law enforcement.
“I need help. I’ve done everything I can do, and I don’t know what to do now,” Butler said parents often say when they ask about the program.
The program is only available for male pre-teens and teenagers, but organizers are planning on a female course too, they said.
Holding kids accountable for their actions is one of the main objectives of the program for Connor, who has been involved in youth programs for years.
“Our goal with this is accountability. Make them accountable. Kids today aren’t accountable any more. They come and do what they want to do, and the parents take the rap,” Connor said. “We make them accountable for what they do and just let them know that they can do this.”
Our goal with this is accountability. Make them accountable. Kids today aren’t accountable any more. They come and do what they want to do, and the parents take the rap.
Cpl. Harold “Corky” Connor
The Horry County Sheriff’s Office’s Transportation Department, which Connor works in, took 280 juveniles to either the Department of Juvenile Justice or an evaluation center from August 2015 to January 2016, according to data presented by Butler earlier this year, while the program was still in the works.
Those behind the S.O.A.R. program are hoping to make a big dent in those numbers.
“Our kids matter. Bottom line is the streets are winning. We’re losing, and I keep telling people we’re going to get our kids back one way or another … And this is just our way to reach out and pull them back in,” Connor said.
The program was largely crafted by Butler and Connor, and the HCSO, but multiple agencies play a role in it, and the dozen instructors present during the event are from the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety and others.
The Aynor, Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach police departments are also involved in the program, and organizers hope to get more and more officers and agencies involved and to help mentor the children who go through the program and guide them when they see them in their neighborhoods.
“It’s not just the sheriff’s office, We’ve got a lot of people helping. It’s a community thing,” said Fox, Chief Deputy of HCSO.
All involved stressed ongoing follow-up was key to the program’s success, and Butler and Connor said that one of the most rewarding things about the event was seeing the kids in community afterward and hearing about their positive changes.
At the end of the first program, which was held over the summer, all the boys involved hugged Butler and Connor and shook their hands, they said.
For more information on the program, contact Sgt. Robert Butler at the Horry County Sheriff’s Office at 843-915-6903 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.