Troop 825: Kentucky's only Boy Scout troop inside a prison - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Troop 825: Kentucky's only Boy Scout troop inside a prison

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LA GRANGE, KY (WDRB) -- From the outside looking in, you wouldn't have a clue about what's really behind the limestone walls and the razor wire at the Kentucky State Reformatory.

Among the state's most violent and mentally challenged inmates is an elite group that meets once a month.

"There's a lot of sad stories here," said Matthew Estepp, an inmate who is serving out a 30-year sentence. "Coming to prison initially is real heartbreaking for a lot of people."

Each meeting of Troop 825 begins with a pat down and a prayer. It is the only Boy Scout troop made up entirely of inmates – and the only one of its kind in Kentucky. Not all inmates can participate, they must have a mental or emotional capacity of someone 18 or younger, according to Jamie Strang, procedures officer at the prison.

During each meeting, the inmates take the oath to do their best, after so many here have done their worst.  It's during these monthly meetings where these mentally challenged inmates can gather collections for outside charities, earn their GED, learn to better interact with each other and learn other skills like how to a fold a flag.

Mostly, Troop 825 is there for its members.

"As a Boy Scout we try to help each other out," said Joseph Legg, an inmate and the troop's appointed scout leader.

"This is a positive venue for the guys that need it the most," said Estepp.

The men in this room share a cornucopia of convictions: from sex crimes to murder. In Scouts, they call it a merit badge. But there are no badges on Matthew Estepp's prison uniform, just rough patches in his life that he'd rather forget.

"Since I've been in prison I have become a different person. When I came in I was mad. I was one of the people that deserved to come to prison," he said. "I was a drug addict. I didn't care about anyone or anything."

He's serving out a 30-year conviction, but for what exactly he didn't want to say (even though the state of Kentucky provides that data online and for public inspection).

During our conversation, Estepp hints at regret.

"You hear a lot of people talk about they didn't do this and they didn't do that. And I was a very bad person. It's been a road to recovery and reform for me," said Estepp.

His work as a suicide watcher for other inmates brought him to Troop 825. It's here where he's found comfort mentoring others.

"It makes me feel like a better person to help people," Estepp said.

Joseph Legg is the troop leader. But there was a time when this 31-year old didn't want to lead the group, he didn't even want to live:  "Well four years ago, I was a little troublemaker. I didn't care if I lived or died (in here). It didn't bother me at the time. Because at the time I was trying to commit suicide my own self."

Suicide is an all too familiar subject for Legg. At the age of seven, Joseph watched his two older brothers kill themselves.  "The first month once we buried Tom - two weeks later we buried my other brother because he shot himself. It was all in the same month."

To listen to him now, as he stands in front of a room of ten other inmates, Joseph Legg sounds responsible, sounds like a leader. He even jokes with his fellow inmates that they'd better follow his instructions.

"I know where each and everyone one of y'all live," he says laughing.

Earlier this year, Legg's mother passed away. It was another rough spot in his life – a life he says he owes his life to the Boy Scouts. He credits the one-on-one interaction he gained from a former troop leader with helping him through the tough times.

"Cause I got the same thing, and I wanna give it back," Legg said. "Before joining this program, I didn't think nobody actually cared -- until I actually did join the program and see that people actually does care."

It took months of working with the state department of corrections to gain access to Troop 825. It was during our visit to the prison that meeting turned to a serious topic.

"Once you leave, you're gone."

Matthew Estepp is leaving. He's made parole and will likely no longer communicate with the other scouts. "To start off with I am going to a halfway house. After that I have to get a job, that's as far as realistic 30 years," Estepp said.

But that's why Troop 825 exists, to prepare the inmates for life outside prison.

"And that's what we do in here... we check on each other," said Legg.

It's easy to forget why they're here. Some of these men have taken a human life or robbed others of their innocence.

"It gives them someone to talk to, someone that cares, someone that will not try to lead them astray," said Estepp.

Troop 825 is not the story of who they've been, but more who these men are trying to become.

The Boy Scouts of America released a statement to WDRB News saying that there are some similar programs in other states, but perhaps none exactly like Troop 825.

The statement reads in part: "We believe through the positive experience that Scouting can provide, these programs are in line with the mission of the Boy Scouts. Which is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law."

Update: Reporter's Note - Since our story aired, many of you have asked how this program can allow convicted felons to participate in Boy Scouts when members of the gay community are excluded from participating. Below is our question and response from the Boy Scouts of America:

WDRB: "What is the response of the Scouts that this program allows convicted felons to participate but scouts exclude members of the gay community? We've already had a few viewers ask about this since we are promoting the story."

Boy Scouts' Response: "It is important to note that this is a character development opportunity based on Scouting principles but these individuals are not permitted to participate in Scouting upon their release. Our youth protection program and the use of Scouting principles in this manner are in no way related to Scouting's membership standards," according to Lindsey Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America.



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