Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is an appropriate introduction to describe the San Quentin Veterans Day ceremony honoring the men and women who died serving their country.
The names of nearly 6,588 military personnel, whose names were first recited at the prison’s First Annual Roll Call on Veterans Day in 2011, were finally completed on Veteran’s Day this year.
Every time the bell tolled, it rang for a serviceman or servicewomen who either committed suicide while on active duty or after they served.
For the fourth consecutive year, the morning air was filled with a brisk chill of clean air that settles around the bay.
As the 3,404 men living at the facility started their daily ritual of preparing to spend another Veterans Day at San Quentin, a handful of inmates who are former Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine and Navy men set the stage for the Fourth Annual Veterans Day celebration. For nearly 450 former military warriors, this was their “Day of Honor.”
As the general population slowly moved to the Lower Yard, an unexplained mood resonated on many of their faces. Honor and respect were vibrating around the yard as they heard the mantra of all branches of the military played over the PA system.
The rhythm of their movement was methodical and disciplined. Everyone seemed to be moving at a very careful pace. There was no noise or insignificant chatter on the yard.
Former military and non-military individuals celebrate a Veterans Day ceremony at San Quentin. It serves as a short-term break from the routine that inmates encounter every day in prison.
Veteran Healing Veteran From The Inside Out (VHVFTIO) celebrates Veterans Day to bring honor and recognition to veterans who dedicated their lives to protect America’s freedom against oppression and tyranny.
The group was started in 2011 by Marine veteran Ron Self to help inmates cope with struggles of life inside prison. The large number of suicides committed by veterans inside and outside of these walls had grown at an epidemic rate without a strategy to combat or a plan to prevent it, Self said. He wanted to do something about it.
The number of suicides inside prisons is lower, Self noted. “Guys in our program are taught to look at themselves in the mirror and deal with issues in their past. I started the program to reduce the number of vets who commit suicide.”
Another reason for establishing the program was to help incarcerated veterans manage their emotions. These veterans are often tormented with anger and frustration after serving their country, but their anguish is exacerbated when the system fails to recognize their needs.
There are memories of past experiences that haunt them, and being in prison just fixates their anxiety.
Treatment of PTSD was another motivating factor that prompted Self to formulate programs to help veterans look deeper into their past for answers to some of their problems.
According to VHVFTIO’s curriculum, narrative therapy through writing and story telling are tools used by members in the group to help process painful events in their lives. After sharing these intimacies, “they soon discover that are not alone,” Self explained.
If an incarcerated veteran wants to learn more about VHV or if they or their family may qualify for additional benefits, please contact:
Mary Donovan, Executive Director of VHV
PO BOX 432
San Quentin, CA 94964
The VHV website is veteranshealingveterans.org