THE SHOW "Dateline NBC: Intersection"
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 7 p.m. on NBC/4
WHAT IT'S ABOUT North Charleston, S.C., was a world apart from Charleston -- a thriving street drug trade had accelerated its urban rot and turned it into one of the most dangerous small cities in the country. Then, in 2011, state and local police collared some two dozen dealers as part of a program called "STAND," for Stop and Take a New Direction.
But U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles had plans for eight other dealers who were not arrested -- job rehabilitation under the guidance of two dedicated North Charleston police officers: Charity Prosser, the mother of a 17-year-old and married to an Air Force officer; and Jamel Foster, a Navy vet and father of four. Initially they're scornful of their new and unexpected career curveball, dubbing it "Hug-a-Thug."
MY SAY The two officers here are skeptical about "STAND" and viewers have every right to be as well -- a shot at redemption for hardened street dealers who probably see in Nettles as much a sucker as savior? But "Dateline" does something a little different here, and in the process may end up changing a few minds and attitudes. The program spends a year with the eight, and with Prosser and Foster, who shepherded their wards from part-time job to part-time job, or worked with them as they studied for their high school diploma (only one had stayed in high school, the rest were dropouts). At first these eight look like mug shots -- the fallen, staring back at a world that has no use for them. Then something unexpected happens: You get to know them. They are humanized -- for better or worse -- over this hour, and their true characters begin to emerge. Half, in fact, do fall back on their old ways, but four don't, and the gratitude (and relief) of Prosser and Foster, the real heroes of this hour, is palpable. Their year of "hugging a thug" actually worked.
BOTTOM LINE Interesting and surprisingly emotional.