The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
July/August 2005
FEATURE
 
 

Desert Life: Nevada Incarcerated Chapters
 

BY MICHAEL KEATING

VVA Chapter 719: Stars and Bars

The introductions and greetings were cordial but brief. The men gathered in the VVA office at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center are anxious to get the chapter meeting started. They want to talk about meat. Lots of meat. Whoís going to pick it up? How much is it going to cost? How much are they going to buy? Where will the grills be set up?

The members of Incarcerated Chapter 719óthe Rock Pileóare getting ready for their biggest annual fund-raiser: a huge barbeque.

ďGood meat is rare in prison,Ē said chapter president Alfred Luddy. ďAnd pork, due to various dietary restrictions, is almost unheard of.Ē

So once a year, vans full of meat pull into the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. Then the grills are fired up, and the inmates eat till their bellies are full. The cost is modest, supports a good cause, and breaks up the routine of prison life primarily known for its monotony.


The NNCC is a medium-security facility in Carson City. Although the prison site is the second oldest in the state, the present facility was built in the sixties. There are three dormitory-style housing units, each with a capacity of 144 inmates. The buildings are stripped down, grim, and plain. Large open spaces stretch around each unit. Razor wire swirls around long straight lines into the distance.

Itís reminiscent of the worst of the 1960s urban redevelopment that destroyed urban neighborhoods and replaced them with cheap high-rises surrounded by ugly, uninviting open space. No high-rises here; these structures cling to the earth. Theyíre the kind of buildings that make you feel cheap and dirty just walking inside. And the grounds are just thatóground.

Out here on the desert, these housing projects are surrounded by all the trappings of a single-minded city. Or maybe a single-master coal town.

Silver State Industries runs several vocational business centers at the Correctional Center. Thereís a business that makes mattresses; another does meticulous work restoring automobiles. One shop makes executive desks from beautiful woods to individual specs; another fabricates modular office units in a variety of veneers and fabrics. Part of the inmatesí incomes goes to a Victim Restitution Fund.

The prison hospital is modest in size compared to any hospital outside, but itís new, clean, and efficient. A specially designed psych ward permits guards to keep close watch on traumatized inmates. One wing is set aside for women inmates from other facilities.


In its early days, when Chapter 719 was just a satellite of Nevada State Prison Chapter 545, the founding VVA members would look out over the dusty yard and scout for aluminum cans. Those cans began a project. The VVA crew picked up more cans and asked others for their discarded cans. That single-minded dedication to making something from nothing led to Chapter 719ís first outreach effort: a contribution to the Eagle Valley Childrenís Home, a facility for severely disabled children.

The can drives have continued since they began in 1991, each culminating in a charitable contribution. Now, scrap paper is also collected. Itís bundled up, then stored near the body shop. When a truckload has been accumulated, itís hauled off.

Prison Break was a United Way fund-raiser that Chapter 719 put on for four years. For one day, the yard was transformed into a carnival with a midway featuring games of chance and entertainment, as well as food concessions offering chicken, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream cones. Then a new warden got nervous and killed the program.

All these activities have raised modest amounts of money. Each allowed the chapter to make modest but steady contributions to charities on the outside.

In 1996, the chapter decided to focus its attentions on a single local school. Letters were written to area schools, and few positive responses were received. But then a letter arrived from Stead Elementary in Stead, Nevada, saying it would be happy to accept the chapterís help. Promptly, $320 in school supplies was sent to the second grade.

Since then, Stead Elementary has remained a favorite charity of Chapter 719. On occasion, the chapter has received funds from the Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund that matched the chapterís contributions to Stead. One year they wrote a check for $3,000.

Not all the chapterís efforts have looked outward, however. Like the Nevada State Prison chapter, the NNCC chapter has invested heavily in muscle, sweat, and dollars to make the facility more visually interesting. Beautification projects, including gardens and fishponds, have been planned, negotiated with the administration, then dug and planted, and finally maintained and expanded.

Murals have been painted. And the Rock Pile has acted as facilitator for programs in anger management, parenting, commitment to change, and street readiness.


For the men of 719, Vietnam Veterans of America has brought self-respect and the esteem of others. Itís given them a means to reach out, the ability to be a force for good, and the wish to improve the world around them.

As the men of Chapter 719 walk out into the yard, they slip on their VVA caps. Itís status, as it is in the free world. But itís different at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, because itís status without rival. No other logo may be displayed at NNCC. Not Nike, not Pepsi, not Adidas or Ralph Lauren. No Pittsburgh Pirates, no N.Y. Yankees or L.A. Dodgers. Not even the VFW. Only one organization has earned the right, in the eyes of the prison administration, to be displayed at the facility: Vietnam Veterans of America.

   

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