WILLOW RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) – This week marks the 20th anniversary of Minnesota’s Challenge Incarceration Program. It’s a boot camp-approach to rehabilitate non-violent offenders. .

The C.I.P. campus, located near Willow River, is about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities, but it’s a different world for most of the participants.

From their polished boots to their ironed uniforms, participants like Victor Byrd look like they could be part of a military boot camp. And their days are just as structured.

“Up at 5:15, PT, either aerobics, or a 4.9 mile run. Shower, eat, work,” said Byrd.

Some of the work includes serious gardening. The participants have harvested more than a ton of produce so far this summer – feeding themselves and donating to area food shelves.

Participant Brandon Petersen knows his way around the garden.

“This this main garden, we got the corn, the squash, the watermelon is over there. Then we got raspberry patches here and there, and cabbage and broccoli over on the other side,” said Peterson.

Firewood is produced the old-fashioned way: cut with two-man buck saws and split by hand. And when flooding hit nearby Moose Lake in June, some of these offenders were sent to help.

“And the community has really reached out, being very grateful,” said

Discipline is required in every aspect of life at Willow River, right down to the organization of personal items. When a man is alone, he is expected to run, not walk, to his destination.

Many hours are also spent in classes, helping offenders get their GED high school diploma, and then working on job application skills.

Since many of these men have gotten into trouble with drugs and alcohol, there is also a lot of counseling.

Every person in this program has had to apply and be accepted. Completing this boot camp successfully means years could be taken off of a typical sentence.

There are 180 men right now in the Willow River Challenge Incarceration Program.

They are there for six months, and then move on to closely-supervised work release in the community.