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Gator Wilderness Correctional Camp

Jerry Beard | Florida, United States

Gator Wilderness Camp School for Boys is a private, non-profit (501C3) correctional camp located on 250 acres of sub-tropical savanna in Southwest Florida's rural Charlotte County. The camp is home to boys ages 11 to 18 whose severe behavior has excluded them from participation in everyday society. Their issues range from violence and explosive bursts to drug use and theft. Most have had multiple contacts with law enforcement and the court system. Some are banned from public schools and have been rejected by families. All have no place left to go.

Activities are structured after the Eckerd Outdoor Therapeutic Program, including building projects, meal planning, and wilderness treks.  Issues are solved in a group setting called "circle up." Boys sleep beneath mosquito nets in open-air shelters built and maintained by the group. Cooking is performed over a fire. The camp area has no electricity. 

I was given exclusive access to the camp and the boys for the purpose of creating this photo essay.  

Thanks to Gator Wilderness Camp for unfettered access and assistance. Many thanks to South African photographer Greg Marinovich for his insights. 

After sailing for years as Communications Officer onboard the R/V Knorr in support of oceanographic research, I turned my professional efforts toward news and documentary photography. I've been freelance for four of the past five years, with six months as a staff photographer at the Seneca Daily Journal in South Carolina. I hold Associated Press and Zumapress photographer contracts.  My work has been featured in regional magazines and newspapers, as well as ABC Network News, NBC Network News, and multiple European outlets. 


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