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
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
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
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
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.