BIG FLATS | More than 200 elected officials, community members, former inmates and employees of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility rallied Saturday at the National Soaring Museum to save the camp from closure.
Those assembled were protesting the decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to close the facility July 26, 2014 as part of a cost-saving effort in response to a decline in the number of inmates.
A total of 105 employees and 96 inmates will be affected.
Those who spoke Saturday said Cuomo's plans would have a much larger impact on the community.
"This decision doesn't make any sense," said Assemblyman Chris Friend, R-Elmira. "We know Camp Monterey works. It offers drug treatment and GED classes. Why are they shutting it down? They should be opening more shock incarceration camps. They should expand the people who are eligible for Camp Monterey. This is a big fight. We have to keep people invigorated."
Friend encouraged those in attendance to call and write the governor in the hopes that Cuomo announces during his State of the State address in January that he's reversed his decision.
Many of the guest speakers Saturday pointed to the amount of money work crews from Camp Monterey save local municipalities.
"They provide us with a service that we can't provide for ourselves," said Ron Ogden, manager of marketing and development for the National Soaring Museum. Ogden said the camp provides work crews for the museum. "We depend on their services. We couldn't do it ourselves. Camp Monterey is an important asset to us."
Erwin Town Supervisor Rita McCarthy, said the work crews have saved Erwin $500,000 annually which, she said, amounts to half the town's highway department budget.
"We have miles of levee," McCarthy said. "It's very labor intensive."
While the cost savings to local municipalities can be substantial, many of the guest speakers said the most valuable role the camp plays is on the lives of its inmates.
Steve Ray, a former Camp Monterey inmate, said he had been arrested at a young age for attempted burglary and driving while intoxicated. After his six-month incarceration, Ray changed his life and received his bachelor's degree in computer science.
"It was the most difficult six months of my life," Ray said. "We drilled all day and were educated at night. It was a process. We had to be honest. We had to be open. We had to be willing. We had to honor all the orders from all the staff at all times."
Ray said that during his incarceration, he also had to take responsibility for the crimes of his past.
"We had to abandon our self centeredness," Ray said. "As we ate, slept, and showered together, we also grew together. We'd done a lot of damage and had to make amends. We had to acknowledge that we were part of a community. We couldn't damage or undermine anything in the community."
Page 2 of 2 - Like Ray, former inmate John Haywood said his experience changed his life.
"My time at Camp Monterey were the longest, hardest six months of my life," Haywood said. "Twenty three years later, I have not seen the inside of a prison cell. As a teen and young adult, I was in and out of jail."
Instead, Haywood learned a different way of thinking thanks to the drill instructors at Camp Monterey.
"You are no longer a person," Haywood said. "You are part of a platoon. You are rewarded and punished as a platoon. You are taught respect and discipline. As a result, my thought process changed. I became a productive member of society. If I had sat in a prison cell, I would have just learned to be a better criminal. Governor Cuomo, you are doing a disservice to these young men and to the community."