Six girls ages 12 to 16 lined up at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway on Friday afternoon.
The girls’ names were replaced with numbers for the night as they became the third class and first female group to go through Horry County’s program called “Succeed Overcome Achieve Re-educate” (S.O.A.R.) – a course that strives to reach at-risk youth by giving them a taste of what a night behind bars would be like.
The teen dubbed two and the other named four both broke into tears as exercise instructions were shouted at them before they were individually shackled and driven to the Horry County Courthouse.
The class had shrunk in size before the program started Friday afternoon around 4 p.m.
“We had 10, but three dropped because they were either charged criminally or they went to a youth home, and one is actually sick,” Sgt. Robert Butler, program co-creator, said before the course got underway.
Jail jumpsuits were tossed at the girls, and one-by-one they were escorted by a female instructor to a nearby changing area to shed their street clothes and put on prison garb.
The jiggle of six sets of shackles chimed as Cpl. Harold “Corky” Connor, program co-founder, brought them in and sorted them out. The teens were then each cuffed and metal chains were wrapped around their waists before they were taken down to a van that would cart them to the Horry County Courthouse for the rest of the night.
“Some of the struggles the juveniles are dealing with right now is just general bad behavior at home, at school,” said Butler, who also said some of the girls were there because their school recommended it, while others found their way to it after concerned parents heard about it.
Butler said in observing other similar programs involving girls that their spirits may be tougher to break than those of boys. He also said in the past he’s noticed that female groups involved in other programs he’s seen may come in with the expectation that the instructors will take it easier on them because they’re girls, but they’re in for a rude awakening.
“We’re gonna run the same program we do as with the boys,” said Connor before the class got started. “We might alter some things, but I think pretty much, it’ll be the same exact program.”
Just as the boys, the girls underwent hours of off-and-on exercise and shouting meant to challenge them mentally and physically during the roughly 12-hour-long program.
It really pays off at the end. I think a lot of them come away with a whole different aspect as to what’s going on.
Cpl. Harold “Corky” Connor, S.O.A.R. co-creator
Before undergoing all the exercise, each teen had to pass a sports physical and Horry County Fire Rescue EMS stayed on the sidelines through the program just in case a medical need arises.
Doing exercise and enduring shouting is the hard part of the program. While participants, who are not mixed with actual jail inmates, are broken down during the rigorous rounds of shouting and physical strain, they’re also then built back up by instructors and counselors, and they listen to a motivational speaker, watch a film about life behind bars and have a reflection period about the experience.
Their parents also attend a two- to three-hour-long workshop the night of the program.
Connor said part of the program’s overall goal is to create accountability for kids, build up their self-esteem and show them that their parents, program instructors and volunteers care and won’t give up on them.
“It really pays off at the end. I think a lot of them come away with a whole different aspect as to what’s going on,” said Connor.
The program, which was designed by the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and is an off-shoot of a four-hour program, also partners with multiple agencies such as, the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety, Myrtle Beach police, Aynor police and others.
One of the goals is also to make wayward youth familiar with an officer from their area who can be a friendly face on the streets for them after the program. After the course, Butler and Connor, who both work with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, keep up with the kids and parents, they said.
While the course is still in its infancy, Butler and Connor said they have hopes of extending it to become a three-day program and would like to enact a three-week summer camp in the future.
For more information on the S.O.A.R. program, contact Sgt. Robert Butler at the Horry County Sheriff’s Office at 843-915-6903 or firstname.lastname@example.org.