VEGAS LOST: Nevada camp helps troubled teens turn their lives around

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There is a place that aims to help kids turn it around. It’s a place unlike any other program in Nevada. If you want to see it you must look up.

Spring Mountain Youth Camp is perched 8000’ above sea level in the mountains to the West of Las Vegas. It is home to 100 kids and almost always it is full. Built on the site, and in many of the same buildings, as a 1950’s era Air Force base, it has expanded and the crimes of the kids sent here have become more violent.

“I’ve been getting into trouble all my life,” one 17-year-old inmate told us. “But like things started getting serious when I was 14 or 15. Money. Money and power everybody wants it.”

The youngest kids are twelve. The average is just 15-years-old. They’re here for crimes from graffiti to gun charges. They will live here, work here, go to school here for six to nine-month sentences.

We asked an 18-year-old inmate if the programs here work? “For me, it’s been cool. I’ve been through other programs like the military school. Some people get it, some people don’t. It’s just the mindset you have.”

Lamont Hicks is a Parole Officer and head football coach on the mountain. He lives here for 24 hour long stretches in one of the housing units. Its an area so remote the wilderness in front of them carries an ominous name.

“This canyon is called AWOL Canyon," Hicks tells us. “99 percent of the kids that run go down that canyon. And we average 3 to 5 a year.”

So far every kid has been caught and none have been seriously injured. The threat of mountain lions and harsh terrain has led to injuries for officers.

That isolation is intentional. The goal here is to take kids from broken homes or gang influence and show them something different. They do that by taking kids from different backgrounds and making them live in close quarters. It’s a cross between a prison sentence and a summer camp.

They do hard work, some cut paths through the mountain for the Department of Forestry. Some play organized sports. They all take classes through the Clark County School District.

“There are some in the community that has ranted about that,” Hicks says while showing us the weight room. “They’ll say, you know these kids shouldn’t have cable they should be working, but they’re kids. The crimes are heinous but they’re kids, their brains haven’t developed and if we give up on them they’ll only know one thing the life of crime. Well, institutionalize them.”

Their time here is intense but it is not permanent. They will go back home and that’s the real question: Will the lessons they learn here, that renewed sense of self and new values stick with them?

That’s what we asked a 17-year-old who has been committing crimes since he was eleven.

“Are there people out there that can help you?” we asked him? “Not really. Is it all up here? It’s all in the mind you gotta be strong-minded.”

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