Camp helps turn young offender around |

Camp helps turn young offender around

by Merrie Leininger

Anyone who remembers their Sunday school days knows the Bible story of Daniel in the lion’s den.

Another Daniel -Daniel Henkel, 20, of Carson City – says that while he was sentenced to China Spring Youth Camp, turning to God also helped him turn his life around.

– Redemption. Being sent to China Spring Youth Camp when he was 16 years old by Judge David Gamble was the jolt Henkel says he needed to grow up and turn to religion.

“He is an example of what the camp can do,” Judge Gamble said.

Henkel, is now a married father of one who works days at Landmark Homes and spends every Tuesday night in the China Spring chapel teaching the boys the word of the Lord.

Henkel says the combination of his 6-1/2-month stay at the youth camp and the chapel program turned him from a mindless life of doing drugs to the positive, fruitful life he has now with wife Joni and little Alexander, 2-1/2 years.

– Bad scene. Henkel moved to the Carson Valley from Los Angeles with his mother, Jane Henkel, two brothers, Bobby and Jeremiah, and sister, Joanna, when he was 13 years old.

“I started to get into that scene right off the bat. I was hanging out with guys that were doing drugs,” he said.

Over the next couple of years, Henkel said, he and his friends did little more than sit around and do drugs: marijuana, crystal methamphetamine, LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

He got into trouble a couple of times. He was arrested for joyriding, for breaking and entering and was put on probation or did a few weeks in the juvenile detention center in Carson City.

Then, in September 1995, he was busted for what he says was the only time he ever sold LSD. Because of the unusually large amount of the drug Henkel had, he could have been tried as an adult.

“While I was waiting for my hearing, I wrote (Judge) Gamble a letter. I told him I had thought about that I was looking at a lot (of time) and I wanted to turn myself around. I told him I didn’t want to spend dead time in the detention center. Two weeks later, I was in China Spring,” he said.

The daily routine included getting up at the crack of dawn and doing exercises, weight lifting and running 3 to 5 miles – “Things I’d never been able to do on drugs,”he said.

While in the camp, he earned his high school equivalence degree after years of just getting Ds and Fs and skipping school.

“One of the main goals of the camp is to teach you self-respect and to respect others. That’s one of the things that helped me,” Henkel said.

After school work was done, the inmates were kept busy with work detail like picking up trash or doing yard work somewhere in the county. The inmates also had livestock at the camp they were responsible for, Henkel said, which helps a lot of kids be able to care for something when they’ve never had that chance before.

The counselors, Henkel said, were very helpful by just being someone to talk to and to help him set goals for himself.

– Chapel. In addition, Henkel said one of the main things that allowed him to turn his life around was reading the Bible and going to the camp’s chapel Sunday afternoons and Tuesday nights.

“(Pastor) Jeff Gordan really helped counsel me. We talked about the Bible and he believed in me and he believed I could change for the better,” he said.

One day at chapel, he was asked to deliver the sermon, a turning point for Henkel, who know says he would like to be a pastor some day.

When he was released, he got a lecture about changing who his friends were, he said. However, he didn’t want to give up the friends he had for years.

“I thought I could talk to them still, but they started changing me back to the way I started and I started smoking (pot) again. I didn’t go to church and I stopped lifting weights,” he said.

Judge Gamble said going back to their old ways after release is the biggest problem for those inmates who want to change. He said that is why having a camp so close to Gardnerville is a benefit for local boys.

“Keeping close to their family so there can be reasonable interaction is important. If it was in Ely, it wouldn’t be as good for the Douglas County boys. It’s really difficult to be put back where they were. But if they are close, that can be done gradually,” Gamble said.

Henkel said he felt lost and didn’t know what to do when he was released from the camp. Then one day, he woke up knowing he had to do something. He began walking down the road with no idea where he was going.

“I was walking down the street and looked up and there was Calvary Chapel in front of me. I still go there,” he said.

Once again, turning to his religion changed his life and allowed him to get back on track.

When he felt he was ready to back “into the lion’s den,” Henkel began preaching to the Tuesday night chapel group.

He said he feels the camp inmates respond to him because he can say, “I know what you’re going through.”

“I wanted to counsel them and help them. I tell the kids at the camp, ‘You have to break away from your old friends, they’re going to drag you down and you’ll both sink,’ ” he said.