VEGAS LOST: David Hollis helps young offenders get back on track with 'THUG Life' program

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Their crimes are serious enough to send them to prison. Their ages are young enough for middle school.

One man is making it his mission to help young offenders get back on track. He's been working to keep kids out of prison for two decades.

“There’s a lot of good messages today. A lot of sad things that we can turn into positives.” That is the voice of an 18-year-old with a history.

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for coming to me at night when I talk to you. I thank you for saving this young man inside of his mother. It’s the best thing I’ve seen since I got out of jail.”

Tears start to flow from the eyes of some of the men. They’re listening to an 18-year-old.

It’s the end of a two-hour meeting. A dozen people are gathered, most of them are teenagers. The prayer ends; the men hug and offer messages of support.

The 18-year-old has reason to celebrate. His parole ended this morning, and he’s a free man. It’s the end of a long chapter that brought him to an office park on Flamingo Road.

“They had me on possession with a firearm, attempt to sell, supplying and having a dangerous narcotic,” he says. “I was 15 when I got that charge.”

We’re hiding his identity because, like every kid here, he is living in a dangerous world. Years before this, when most kids are heading into middle school, he was in front of a judge.

“I was going to get certified at age 14,” he said.

We asked him if the prospect of adult prison was scary.

“Yes,” he said. “But the scariest part wasn’t going to jail. The scariest part was hurting my mom.”

The group is called “THUG Life,” or “True Heroes Under God.” This is a group of teenagers, whose crimes brought them to the verge of the adult system.

Instead, they meet a man called Hot Dog.

“When you get better, you reach back and help somebody else,” said the voice of Hot Dog, forceful but kind. All eyes are fixed on him.

Hot Dog is David Hollis, a former UNLV Rebel who is now doing just that -- he’s rebelling against the cycle of crime that has claimed so many of our Valley’s kids.

He rebels by way of a 12-week course on compassion.

“If I can create an environment where they feel safe -- where they can express themselves without being soft, show them that we as men can show empathy caring, we can tear up.” Hollis tells us.

This is a program of his own design. Kids are mandated by the court system to come here and meet with the former Parole Officer. He and other staff work with these kids once a week for 12 weeks. They stay in touch throughout the program. Daily activities include encouraging each other and helping each other stay out of trouble.

“We’re not preaching to kids; we just show the kids. We be an example," Hollis tells us.

It seems to be working.

By a large majority, the graduates of this program stay out of the criminal system. The 18-year-old who led the prayer wants to be one of them. He’s a father to two kids, now has a steady job, and promises to be there for his kids the way his father was not for him.

He credits Hollis for the change.

“All the men in this class really go through what we went through,” he said. “That’s what made me want to change. If parole officers can show me they can change then I can do the same thing.”

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