Avery Plemons: West Palm Beach man featured in HBO documentary about boot camp that changed his life

A Rock and A Hard Place airs Monday night on HBO
Posted at 7:59 PM, Mar 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-27 20:10:40-04

They break you. Then, they make you.

That's the goal of a prison boot camp program in Miami that's helped countless young men and women turn their lives around.

And their good work will be showcased starting Monday night in a new documentary produced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The documentary features a young man from West Palm Beach -- he's walking proof that the boot camp works.

Just two years ago, 20-year-old Avery Plemons faced life in prison.

"I got into a little bit of trouble down in Miami," he said. "Hanging out with that sort of crowd."

He was charged with armed robbery and home invasion at just 18-years-old. He had also just graduated high school.

"I was angry and scared, all at the same time. I had no idea what he was doing," said Cathy Molano, Avery's mom. "I wasn't expecting to see him again for another 25 years."

But instead of prison time, a Miami-Dade County judge sentenced him to boot camp -- the only one of its kind in Florida.

"Giving me a sense of direction, showing me where I want to go with my life," Plemons said of the program.

The Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department tries to break the cycle of incarceration by putting about 40 young men -- all facing charges for serious crimes -- through an intense 16-week boot camp.  Avery is one of five cadets that the documentary follows throughout their course in the program.

"I want the world to see the importance of this program," states Johnson in one of the documentary's promotional videos.

During Plemons' time in the boot camp, he was assigned to drill instructor Roosevelt Reese.

"We're trying to get in and save them. Because right now they're going down a real rough path. Making a lot of bad decisions," said Officer Reese. "Let them know there's more to life than whatever is it you were doing before you got incarcerated."

The charges that cadets face range from aggravated battery to drug possession and even attempted murder. The program accepts teenagers as young as 14 to adults as old as their mid-20s.

"It makes this program even more unique, to bring them in with such serious charges and still turn their life around," said Officer Reese.

Plemons was forced to shave his head and endure intense military drills, with instructors screaming in their face. In addition to a very strict regimen for eating, showers and sleeping, the cadets are put through rigorous exercise training of running, push-ups and other routines.

"Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's intense. I'm not one of the friendliest drill instructors behind it," said Officer Reese. "I made him cry a lot but I didn't take my foot off of him because I saw something good in him."

Plemons said it was difficult adjusting to the his new life in the program.

"It's difficult to just take it and not be able to say anything back," he said. "When you first get there, you think it's about yelling and stuff like that. But then you realize that they're doing it because they want you to see things right."

After losing more than 100 pounds and breaking his glasses, Plemons said at times, he felt like giving up.

"A couple of the drill instructors pulled me aside and talked me through it. And then busted my butt afterwards," he said. "You gotta find what your purpose in life is. You gotta find what drives you and just move towards that."

After boot camp, cadets get integrated back into society.

"We send them out for job interviews, send them out to work," said Officer Reese.

Plemons now works in construction and is in the process of joining the Army. He's now engaged to his high school sweetheart as they raise their newborn daughter, Riley.

"They were taught the right way, now they have to take the right path," said Molano. "The boot camp has given him the tools and we're growing on those tools so he can get a better life."

It's a life Plemons said he wouldn't be living, if it weren't for his second chance.

"I like where I"m at right now. I like who I am," he said. "I wouldn't change anything in my past."

"A Rock and A Hard Place" premieres on Monday night at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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