By Peter S. Gaytan
Florida has developed a new program for imprisoned veterans aimed at easing their transition back to society and keeping them out of prison for good. As reported in The New York Times, this program, begun in August, puts honorably discharged veterans, with no more than three years left on their sentences and who volunteer to participate, in separate dorms. While the group eat with other inmates in the prison and must adhere to the same visitation and telephone schedules, their days are very different. For these vets, it’s a return to military life. California and Illinois have similar programs.
Days include formation and flag-raising and retiring ceremonies. Each man’s bunk displays a card with his photo, branch of service, and years served. The beds and dorms are as clean as would be found on any military base. The prisoners must remain drug-free. The military expectation of honesty and respect are demanded of all participants. There is a single warning for infraction. Second offenses mean expulsion from the program.
By putting the veterans together, they return to the military discipline they once knew. They develop a camaraderie of helping each other. They can learn about the services available to them as vets when they are released. They can receive care for PTSD, as well as take classes to prepare them for jobs and the stress of returning to civilian life. As one prisoner explained, “It’s re-instilling some of the values I once had that I hope to have again…[the return to military rituals] are bringing up these old memories, of being an upstanding citizen.” The assistant warden of the prison said of the program’s participants, “You could see the pride come back.”
Veterans who break the law must, like anyone else in our society, pay for their crimes. But if the goal is to rehabilitate prisoners and help them successfully return to productive lives, this program offers a new way of looking at how we treat veterans whose previous service to their country has been treasured.
For more information on this program, go to:
Peter S. Gaytan is the author of For Service To Your Country – Updated Edition: The Essential Guide to Getting the Veterans’ Benefits You’ve Earned (Citadel, 2011), available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. He has served as an advocate in securing and protecting the earned benefits of America’s veterans for more than a decade. Gaytan is the Executive Director of the American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in America
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