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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Slated for closure, Camp Monterey graduates last class of inmates

  • Eight days shy of the anniversary of his arrest, Miguel Ocana of Albany walked out of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correction Facility on Thursday as a graduate of the program's 51st session.
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  • Eight days shy of the anniversary of his arrest, Miguel Ocana of Albany walked out of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correction Facility on Thursday as a graduate of the program's 51st session.
    Ocana, 20, was arrested on Jan. 31, 2013 on charges of petit larceny and third-degree burglary, following an investigation of a 2011 burglary at an Albany YMCA.
    His mug shot shows a disheveled, unshaven young man. But on Thursday, Ocana sported a buzz cut and a gleam of hope in his eyes.
    "That's my baby; he gained 19 pounds here," Ocana's mother Lillian said, citing drug and alcohol abuse in her son's past. "He was just hanging out with the wrong people back then; thank God for Monterey."
    Thirty-eight other men graduated alongside Ocana at Thursday's ceremony.
    Normally an important day in the lives of the graduates' friends and family, this particular graduation had special significance – it was the last the facility will hold.
    Thursday's graduates were just two weeks into their stay at Camp Monterey when the state Department of Corrections announced plans in July 2013 to close the facility as a cost-saving measure because of a decline in the number of inmates.
    The camp was well short of its capacity of 300 inmates in recent years, and the DOC says the closure will save $8.4 million annually.
    The facility, which opened in 1987, offers a six-month program designed to help low-level male offenders get their lives back on track in a boot camp-like environment through group counseling, substance abuse treatment, physical training and work details.
    The strict schedule and emphasis on teamwork often results in low recidivism rates.
    Leroy Fields Jr. is one of the camp's success stories. The former student is now superintendent of Camp Monterey.
    At Thursday's ceremony, he urged the men to leave their past behind, citing Camp Monterey's slogan: "Point of power is in the present."
    Clinton Tiger, of Warwick, left Camp Monterey with that mantra in mind. Tiger, 23, found himself at the facility after committing a burglary. Saying a drug problem led to his incarceration, Tiger says he plans to continue living in the present, as Camp Monterey taught him.
    "These last six months have been hard, but they've also been a great learning experience for me," Tiger said. "I've made some mistakes in my past and coming here to Monterey has really given me the chance to work on myself and give me the tools I need to be a successful and productive member of society."
    Tiger, who plans on returning to school in the fall, was surprised to hear about plans to close Camp Monterey. Although the students were just as concerned as the faculty about the facility's future, they found solace in the staff's dedication to the shock program.
    Page 2 of 2 - "They didn't give up on us at all, they kept pushing us no matter what," Tiger said. "They saw us out all the way to the end."
    The faculty and staff of Camp Monterey were also recognized during the graduation ceremony. Steuben County Jail Superintendent Matthew Whitmore, who worked at the facility for seven years, paid tribute to his former co-workers and students.
    "This has been a special place," Whitmore said. "It's been good for the men, but it's been better for us."
    The graduates and employees weren't the only ones to lament the loss of the facility Thursday.
    According to Elmira Department of Public Works Director Brian Beasley, many local municipalities saved money by using Camp Monterey work crews for projects in the area.
    However, local state legislators say they are not giving up the fight to keep the facility open.
    Sen. Tom O'Mara, R-Big Flats, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, have been pressuring state officials over the past six months to reverse their decision on Monterey.
    "This graduation of the final platoon does not mean that my efforts to continue to keep Camp Monterey open aren't continuing," O'Mara said. "We're fully engaged in continuing to get the governor to keep Camp Monterey open."
    Palmesano cited a new budget plan and grassroots support as reasons to keep the facility open.
    "It makes absolutely no sense to close Monterey Shock, which has a proven and well- documented record of success over the past 26 years," Palmesano said.
    "Not just saving state and local tax dollars, but even more importantly, changing and saving lives by giving new hope and opportunity to the thousands of graduates who have completed this successful program."
    Currently home to 75 employees, Camp Monterey expects most of its staff to be absorbed into other facilities before its July closing. The Lakeview and Moriah shock incarceration facilities, in Essex County and Chautauqua County, respectively, will remain open.

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