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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - While most metal bars are used to keep bad guys out, these particular ones are used to keep prisoners of the Camp Lejeune Base Brig in. Built in 1968, more than 200 inmates currently reside within its hallowed walls. Photo by: Sgt. David J. Murphy

Photo by Sgt. David J. Murphy

Service members gone astray do hard time aboard Camp Lejeune

19 May 2006 | Lance Cpl. Adam Johnston

It’s a place where each day is virtually the same – you wake up before sunrise, get on-line and count-off to make sure no one is missing. You’re told when to eat, what to wear and what to do in this "home" away from home. You constantly think back to the choice you made and ask yourself the one question that’s on everyone’s mind, “What was I thinking?”

Though similar in concept, the place in question is neither Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego or Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. To find it, you need look no further than right here on base. Just keep your eyes peeled for the only four-story building surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire.

Since 1968, the Marine Corps Camp Lejeune Base Brig has been home to the few who have gone astray.

“This brig can hold a maximum of 280 prisoners at one time,” said Staff Sgt. Dave S. Greeson, the duty brig supervisor. “Most of the guys who are locked up here will serve between 30 and 90 days.”

Correctional specialists assigned to Brig Company, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base are divided into three work sections of roughly 32 Marines. Each section works 24 hours on and gets 48 hours off before their next shift.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, Greeson explains why he has never, in his 15 years on the job, had reason to fear for his safety.

“When prisoners first get here, many of them are in shock and aren’t quite sure what to expect,” said Greeson. “They think the brig and fictional places like OZ or Shawshank are one in the same. But there’s no rape, drugs or gangs here; it’s much safer than any jail out there in the civilian world, both for us and the inmates.”

Master Sgt. Richard L. Burris, the brig supervisor, credits his guards with making the base brig a model of good order and discipline.

“This job isn’t one of the Marine Corps’ most glamorous,” said Burris. “It can be stressful at times because you’re working long hours and dealing with prisoners whose units want nothing to do with them. But our guards are very professional and mature when it comes to their on-the-job performance. This is one of the only [military occupational specialties] where a young lance corporal is trusted with the responsibility of personally supervising more than 30 individuals.”

However, Burris knows the guards can’t do it alone; he also acknowledges the prisoners for maintaining a high level of character regardless of their current situation.

“Whether they were Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, these prisoners’ military background makes them much more disciplined than most,” said Burris. “As far as I know, there’s never been a major incident here since the brig first opened its doors.”

And speaking of doors, in accordance with the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the Camp Lejeune Base Brig will be closing its doors after 36 years of faithful service.

BRAC is a congressionally authorized process the Department of Defense uses to reorganize its base structure to more efficiently and effectively support our forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business, according to The Secretary of Defense must implement the commission’s recommendations no later than Sept. 15, 2011.

“A new brig is scheduled to be built in Chesapeake, Va., but they haven’t broken ground as of yet,” said Burris.

As of now, planning continues on how the Marine Corps will employ the approximately 150 personnel currently working at the brig when it closes. Plans are also being made as to where Camp Lejeune prisoners will be held in the future.

Therefore, at this very moment, the only thing we know for sure is the fact that the base brig will be closing for business within the next few years. So, until more information is released, there’s only one thing left for the brig guards to do – carry on and get back to work.

“Don’t change uniforms - stay out of the blue and orange,” said Greeson. “Trust me, you don’t want to end up here.”