A GYM instructor based in Littlehampton was the hard-nosed star of a reality TV programme on ITV which premiered on Thursday (January 8).
Retired Army Colour Sergeant Darren Dugan was head-hunted by the broadcaster to be the strict enforcer of law in Bringing Back Borstal.
The programme follows 14 young troublemakers on their journey to change their ways in a mock-up of the 1930s Borstal – an infamous institution designed to reform young offenders.
Between them, they have around 60 criminal convictions and many have served time in prison.
The four-week series sees 25-year Army veteran Darren as the ‘chief’ in charge of disciplining the lads, taking them through a rigorous regime of exercise and early starts at the crack of dawn.
However, as the 41-year-old admitted, he was confident he could handle whatever the troublemakers could throw at him – being a black belt in judo and an experienced boxer.
He said: “I used to deal with the discipline of a battalion of 680 men, so dealing with a few young men was never going to be a problem at all.
“I was quite harsh to them on the first morning.”
When Darren, who helps instruct at the Wee Old Skool Gym, in Arcade Road, burst into their room in the morning, ringing a bell, one of the lads had a few ‘choice words’ for him.
“He refused to get out of bed, so I flipped it over with him still in it,” Darren said.
It was an action he had to do at least three times during the course of recording the social experiment.
However, Darren, of Flansham, said he knew he had to be harsh on the boys because he knew first-hand just how successful discipline and routine can be on getting problem boys back on the straight and narrow.
“Before I joined the Army at 16, I was on the wrong path,” he admitted. “I came from quite a troubled background.
“I came from Leigh Park, in Portsmouth, and I was always getting into fights.
“Before I joined the Army, I couldn’t read or write.
“The Army was life-changing for me. If I hadn’t have joined it I would have gone to prison, I’m sure. I was getting into fights – estate versus estate, school versus school. I got mixed up in the wrong crowd.”
However, he says that these experiences have built him up as an adult and have given him a form of empathy for the boys of Borstal.
“I can totally understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “I think social experiments like this are brilliant, I 100 per cent believe in them.”
During the course of the programme, the boys are taught invaluable skills and trades and use them to help the wider community of Northumberland, where its based. They also attend school.
Darren said the time on the programme had been intensely rewarding and that he had managed to help one of the men achieve his dream of joining the Royal Marines.
“I can have 30 students but if I can help one to success in life that’s very fulfilling for me,” he added. “I really do think programmes like this are the way forward in ensuring young men don’t re-offend, but become useful people in society.”
Bringing Back Borstal continues tonight (Thursday), on ITV1 at 9pm.