ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland State House is being kept tidy these days by an unusually polite crew of young men.
Wearing bright blue uniforms and black combat boots, they have little to say beyond a "Good morning, sir" or "Good afternoon, ma'am" to practically anybody who comes within earshot.
The new cleaning crew is made up of 11 young men from Maryland's experimental boot camp. The same strict discipline that is enforced inside the camp extends outside as well.
As a visitor approaches an inmate polishing a brass plate on an outer door of the State House, the young man snaps to attention, opens the door and offers the standard greeting.
Two inmates mopping the floor of a hallway pause and politely greet each person who walks by.
Their demeanor and dress are markedly different from that of the prison inmates who have cleaned the State House for years. The change has received good notices around the capitol.
"We're super-impressed," said Judy Housley, a guide and travel counselor in the State House tour office. "I haven't been 'ma'amed' that much since I was a schoolteacher."
The inmates are in the first class admitted to the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp in Jessup, a program in its fifth month. All are younger than 25 and are serving prison sentences for the first time.
When they are not on cleanup duty on state roads or in the State House, the inmates attend daily sessions on communication, problem-solving and self-control. They wear bright uniforms with gold trouser stripes and gold baseball caps. They march from one work site to another, almost always under the scrutiny of a pair of uniformed security guards called drill instructors.
Most are expected to leave the program and the prison system after a graduation ceremony in January.
Cpl. Stephanie A. Randall, an instructor, said the 11 inmates selected for the State House detail are among the best of the 240 inmates in the all-male boot camp program.
John P. Garner, 24, of Baltimore, was sentenced to two years in prison for violating probation of a sentence for car theft. He said he prefers spending his days in the halls of government to picking up highway trash.
"It's fine," said Garner, who has been given a special assignment to work in the darkroom with the State House photographers. "I'd rather be here because I'm learning more."