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I am honored to have been appointed chair of the Veterans Incarcerated Committee by John Rowan, and I’m very appreciative of the confidence of past chair and long-time advocate Wayne Miller, who will remain as special adviser. Welcome to new committee member Thomas R. Burke, the Buckeye State Council President.

My commitment to veterans incarcerated is motivated by my experience with my fellow Vietnam veterans who find themselves inside our country’s prisons. I remember that they are veterans first and then offenders.
I am an active member of VVA because of the four incarcerated VVA chapters within the Nevada Department of Prisons. I represent Chapter 719 as a delegate to the Nevada State Council. I am also the president of VVA Chapter 388 in Carson City.

Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, I hid out after returning from Vietnam in 1970, though I have always been proud to be a Marine and a veteran. My service in Vietnam, combined with working in prisons for 25 years, have colored my perceptions of the world.

Upon our return, Vietnam veterans were experiencing undiagnosed PTSD and rising to the attention of the criminal justice system. We were getting arrested and prosecuted by the authorities. This puzzled me, because I knew my fellow veterans to be reliable comrades. My concern for imprisoned veterans led me to study the criminal justice system, eventually acquiring a BA and an MA in sociology. In 1977, I obtained a job as a counselor at the Jean Prison outside of Las Vegas.

My motivation was anchored by my strong and supportive wife, Bonnie. I was determined to treat prisoners in the manner that I expected to be treated, should I have had the misfortune to end up in prison. I treated prisoners as respectfully and as humanely as possible, which sometimes was very difficult, given the repressive circumstances of the prison setting.

I managed to survive in prison and to flourish and grow as a human being—and ironically—be promoted, eventually retiring as an associate warden in 2002. Today, I am an adjunct criminal justice professor at the University of Nevada Reno and president of the Board of Directors of Ridge House, Inc., a non-profit service organization which provides transitional housing and counseling services for men and women leaving prison.

In 1995, as the Associate Warden of Programs at the Lovelock Correctional Center, I was confronted with the lack of resources to provide for the 1,000 prisoners in my care. I learned from the prison programs operated by VVA Chapter 545 at the Nevada State Prison. This incarcerated chapter, under the guidance of Bob Farrar, a psychologist and a Korean War veteran, had been operating a nationally recognized drug, alcohol, and literacy program.

Chapter 545, formed by Vietnam veterans and funded by the Nevada Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, also developed a Street Readiness Program. Chapter members were motivated and had taken on the role of mentors to these younger prisoners. Furthermore, the chapter was supported by the warden.

Several members and associates of the chapter volunteered to transfer to Lovelock and implement a similar program. These veterans formed Chapter 834. I was impressed that Vietnam veterans were motivated to use their time in a constructive manner to help younger offenders. Some of these Vietnam veterans were in for life, and some had very little chance of being released.

On Veterans Day 2001, the incarcerated chapters dedicated the Nevada State Vietnam Memorial in Carson City. This event clearly underscored that veterans in prison can be an asset to the society that imprisoned them. As veterans, we should never forget the veterans who fought and bled beside us, mismanaged their PTSD, and, unfortunately, ended up in prison.

Many Vietnam veterans and Associates share a growing concern about the new generation of veterans incarcerated returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They are committed to reaching out and identifying this new generation. These old veterans are concerned about PTSD in these new veterans.

They are committed to living up to VVA’s motto, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.


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