Full Mettle Junket

For gangbangers and delinquents, Project Challenge boot camp is a last chance to avoid prison

"Acosta, get up here," says Hammonds. Acosta's relentless work ethic has made him the unofficial leader of the platoon.

"Acosta, do you know the Barney song?" says Hammonds.
"Sir, yes sir," says Acosta.
"Stand on this chair and sing it to everyone," says Hammonds. "Murphy needs to learn it."

Acosta blushes, but gets on the chair in front of the whole dining room. When he begins the song, the rest of the blue platoon chimes in. Acosta finishes and sits down.

Hammonds berates his platoon for singing along. Only Acosta was supposed to sing. He's secretly pleased by the show of unity.

"I've never seen a platoon bond together like this," Hammonds says. "That never happens in Pre-Challenge. It usually takes a few weeks for that to happen."

Unless the CI asks for it, there is no conversation allowed. Forks scraping plates is the only noise coming from the students. The CIs will occasionally break the silence.

"GET YOUR ELBOW OFF THE TABLE. NOBODY'S GOING TO STEAL YOUR FOOD."
"THOSE OF YOU USED TO EATING FOR THE FUN OF IT WILL GET USED TO EATING FOR THE FUNCTION OF IT."

"RED PLATOON, YOU BETTER SHOVE THAT CHOW DOWN YOUR HOLE."
As soon as a student is through, he stands behind his chair and reads the Code of Honor. The code is 10 rules that must be memorized by the end of the week.

When the CI is finished eating, the platoon is through eating.

I will not lie to myself or others.
--from the Code of Honor

Members of blue platoon hustle to a classroom for their autobiography session. Three do not have chairs. Acosta is one of them, and he stands at the front of the class in the position of attention. The other two hang in the back.

"Sir, I don't have a chair, sir," Acosta tells Hammonds. Acosta is dismissed to get a chair.

Hammonds begins to speak, and then notices the two others without chairs. One is Martinez. He's been the target of Hammonds' wrath many times on the first day.

"WHY DIDN'T YOU TWO SAY ANYTHING? YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO SPEAK UP," says Hammonds. He makes them remain standing.

Hammonds sets the tone of the autobiography session by opening up about his past.

"I used to live out on the streets," he tells them. "I used to steal to survive. But I don't live there anymore."

Hammonds explains that they will write a topical autobiography. It will include their best and worst day, the most influential person in their life and the reason they've come to Project Challenge.

During the lecture, Navarro puts his head down and falls asleep. Hammonds sneaks up and pounds his fist on the table.

"NEXT PERSON WHO FALLS ASLEEP, AND EVERYONE LOSES THEIR CHAIRS," he says. Martinez and the other person standing are told to go get chairs.

When the pair return, Hammonds pats his desk. "Mr. Martinez, you sit next to me."

The students have 40 minutes to finish. Hammonds doesn't let on that they will be required to read their work to the class.

Time expires. Hammonds tells Martinez to read his autobiography out loud. He refuses.

"MR. MARTINEZ, I AM NOT HERE TO NEGOTIATE WITH YOU," says Hammonds.
"I'm not gonna read it," says Martinez, dropping the required "sir" that should begin and end everything he says. His eyes hold a death wish for Hammonds.

"EVERYONE EXCEPT MR. MARTINEZ GET INTO PUSHUP POSITION," Hammonds commands.
The class groans, but obeys and hits the floor. Hammonds keeps them there for a moment to give Martinez a chance to rethink his decision. Either he reads his paper, or the platoon will want to kick his ass.

"Fine, I'll read it," says Martinez. His disgust for Hammonds is all over his face.

Martinez begins his piece. It's typical biographical information--where he's from, the last high school he attended. There's no mention of why he came to Project Challenge. He finishes reading.

"You're not done," says Hammonds. "Read the rest of it."
"I don't want to," says Martinez. "The rest is just about how much I hate this place."

"READ IT."
Martinez rolls his eyes and continues. The rest is well-written, full of detail and humor. He says he thought the program would be good. But as soon as he showed up, there was a woman in Army pants screaming in his face. Then a kid next to him began coughing up pink, chunky liquid all over him. Martinez wishes he had escaped when he had the chance.

The platoon applauds wildly when Martinez is through. Hammonds praises him for his honesty.

You don't get to Project Challenge without taking the wrong path at some point. The program keeps them from getting even more lost.

Part of that is admitting you've screwed up.
Greyeyes has a pregnant girlfriend and was dealing and robbing on the streets.

Romero is a banger from Nogales who's been kicked out of every school in town.

Murphy was kicked out of school for drinking. His best day was when he became a 15-year-old father.

Crosby got drunk and stole a car. He woke up the next day in juvenile hall and couldn't remember what happened.

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