Avery Plemons, a 20-year-old construction worker from Palm Beach County, spent four grueling months at a Miami prison boot camp to refocus his bad decisions. It was either that or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Quite the deal for a then 18-year-old charged with two counts of armed home invasion after a night in Miami with friends.
The Boot Camp Program at the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department not only transformed him, it made him a documentary star.
Plemons is one of 38 young offenders featured in a new HBO documentary by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson titled “Rock and a Hard Place.” The film, which premiered Monday, follows the boot camp cadets in their last-ditch effort to avoid lengthy prison terms.
In the film, Plemons speaks directly to Johnson, who serves as executive producer. It was Johnson’s own troubled youth that inspired the film.
“By the time I was 16, I had been arrested multiple times for a variety of things, and can relate to what these kids are going through,” Johnson said in a press release.
The documentary’s directors, Jon Alpert and and Matthew O’Neill, spoke highly of Plemons in an interview.
“He, by far, made the greatest physical transformation. It’s this idea of discipline, making your physical body reflect the state that you want your mind to be in,” Alpert told The Post.
Plemons says he watched the film Monday night at his parents’ home in Haverhill. He watched himself cry when he heard his mom’s voice during a short phone call and did push-ups with instructors screaming in his face.
Drill Instructor Virgilio Lopez was Plemons’ biggest influence during his time in the program. Lopez was the authority figure who didn't give up on him or write him off, he says.
“Anybody can change their life around as long as you don’t write them off and jump to conclusions,” Plemons said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Lopez, who has been a part of the boot camp program for eight years, says there is a larger reason for focusing on the troubled young offenders.
“I’m glad to be a part of this. It’s important for people to see what happens when you don’t give up on human beings. Some of them are the ones who are going to change the way this society runs,” Lopez said by phone.
The boot camp program boasts a low recidivism rate (under 15 percent), note the filmmakers, while nationally some 70 percent of young adults commit further offenses after being released from prison. The goal of the military-style boot camp is to break that cycle -- essentially, give young men a second chance. It is something Plemons is grateful to have had.
After work on Tuesday, as he headed home to see his fiance and 3-month-old daughter, Riley, he spoke of his experience as life-changing.
“I feel lucky. I’ve never heard of the program but I know it’s a blessing from God,” said Plemons, who adds that he has no intention of going back to prison. “My anger is a lot better, room cleaner and it takes just a little bit more for me to get agitated.”
Where to see ‘Rock and a Hard Place’
The documentary is available on HBO ON DEMAND, HBO NOW and HBO GO. Watch the trailer here.