While there is no shortage of excellent films depicting the realities

While there is no shortage of excellent films depicting the realities of prison life, a rare portrayal of the success of community-based corrections can be found in the 1997 HBO production of First Time Felon. Based on the true story of Greg Yance, the importance of this saga was realized by director Charles Dutton, who once served time himself in a state penitentiary for manslaughter before finding success in an acting career.The story opens with Greg Yance in all his teenage streetwise glory: he is a “Big Dog” Vice Lord complete with tattoos, gold chains, and a girl on each arm, dealing drugs on the streets of Chicago. But when Greg and his cohorts are busted in a street sweep, Greg finds himself facing a minimum of five years of incarceration. In lockup, he watches in disbelief as his kingpin boss is released on bail, and then thinks hard about his future when he views the bloodied body of a Vice Lord who was beaten by a rival gang because of a dispute over an orange.At his arraignment, Greg is offered a one-time opportunity because he is a first-time felon. He may plead guilty to his charges and accept a five-year sentence, which can be suspended after only three months of inmate boot camp in rural Illinois.Greg takes the plea bargain and finds that his three months in boot camp are the most difficult of his life. Just like real military boot camp, the inmates must rise with the sun and do hard labor for sixteen hours a day. When Greg and a fellow inmate get into a fight over dishwashing, they are forced to carry a huge log with the word “teamwork” carved in the side. They must keep the log with them at all times, never letting it touch the ground–even when they retire to their bunk beds. After two days of carrying the log, Greg and his nemesis have become friends.Just as Greg thinks he can’t handle anymore, an emergency call comes into the boot camp. Unprecedented rainfall has threatened the nearby town with flooding, and the residents need immediate help to sandbag the river before it overflows. Greg leads the other first-time felons in a heroic attempt to save the town, literally throwing his body on top of the retaining wall in a futile attempt to keep the water from breaking through–but his efforts are washed away with the sandbags.Greg and the other inmates refuse to eat the food the townspeople offer them, perceiving themselves as failures. But the townspeople are genuinely grateful, regarding the inmates as victors in spite of it all, pointing out all that was saved instead of all that was lost. Greg then realizes it is self-discipline and perseverance, and not the outer trappings of materialism, that determine character. He graduates from boot camp with honors.Boot camp may have reformed Greg, but the stigma of an arrest record follows him back to his new life. Greg finds himself subjected to blatant discrimination because of his criminal past, and no one is interested in his rehabilitation.After several months of a fruitless job search, Greg almost gives up. His old friends beg him to come back into the drug dealing gang, and when he sees a Vice Lord murdered before his eyes, he loses hope completely. As Greg breaks down and points a gun at his own head contemplating suicide, his eyes focus on a group photograph of himself with the townspeople–the people he helped during boot camp, where he learned the value of never giving up.Today Greg Vance does have a job. He works as an inner-city youth counselor, a firm believer in community-based programs that can save the lives of people like himself.Questions to consider for this Discussion Board:Why might three months of boot camp be better than five years in prison? Do you think hard work should be a component of community-based corrections–or does it exploit free labor? What can be done to stop the discrimination that reformed inmates encounter when they return home? Is such discrimination a cause of recidivism?

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