EL PASO, Texas - The El Paso Juvenile Probation Department is working with the FBI to prevent young offenders from ending up behind bars.
The two agencies are trying to get the kids to pick up barbells, rather than end up behind jail cell bars.
The Wolves Den Gym on Wall Street in East-Central El Paso is full of kids doing jumping jacks, burpees and jump squats. Instructors squawk directions to the kids, who grimace as they broke out in a sweat.
This isn't your average gym class. These kids are repeat juvenile offenders. The instructors are FBI agents.
This is JPD Fit, a new aspect of probation within the Juvenile Probation Department. Rosie Medina, the director of special programs with JPD, calls the fitness regimen a "positive intervention."
"We're triggering the areas of the brain that are triggered by drugs," Medina said. "So, by doing this we're hoping to raise the levels in the brain, get them thinking positively and think of making positive choices when they leave here."
The 20-week program is just halfway through its first year. It truly is a collaboration. Agents with the FBI and the Border Patrol, along with El Paso County Sheriff's Office deputies, volunteer their time to train and mentor the kids. Plus, the owner of the Wolves Den Gym lends the facility to the group with no charge.
"They wanted to do something positive in the community as well on the front end, as opposed to just working our cases," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Doug Lindquist about why the agency and its agents jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with JPD.
Many of the federal agents do work with gangs and gang members.
"At that point, it's hard to get them pulled out of that culture, get them a positive role model and get them back in school," said Lindquist.
Lindquist added, it's a good opportunity to show the teens that law enforcement agents are not "the bad guys."
Participant Timothy Hurtado agreed, admitting he hadn't experienced a positive encounter with police, until now. Hurtado, 16, said working out makes probation an uplifting experience.
"I'm all about my body and my cut and taking protein," he said.
Hurtado now wants to be a mechanic, get a business degree and own a car lot.
"I didn't have any career plans before this at all," he said. "It was just a new thing that popped up in my mind while being in this program."
No federal or county money goes towards JPD Fit.
The fitness program is considered part of treatment for the juveniles, who also receive extensive counseling, appear before a judge and are subjected to home visits and drug testing.
JPD will evaluate the effectiveness of the fitness program at the end of the year.