California has opened the nation’s first prison yard designed to meet the special needs of incarcerated veterans.
The yard and special housing, opened last year at Soledad Prison, now houses approximately 200 vets. The 34 prisons run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation houses about 7,000 veterans.
The aim of the Soledad facility is to offer programs designed specifically for veterans’ needs.
“We really prepare people to get out of here,” said incarcerated veteran Mark Wade, a veteran liaison between the vets group and administration.
Raising and lowering the flag every day and playing Reveille in the morning and Taps in the evening is just the beginning of the new yard. The new configuration now allows for camaraderie between the many incarcerated persons.
The need for a special facility can be found in formerly incarcerated Marine Corps veteran Ron Self’s experience. He described how self-help groups at San Quentin State Prison lacked the empathy needed for veterans.
Self told American Homefront reporter Lucy Copp, “I shared probably my most significant traumatic event that culminated in me putting a bullet in one of my men’s head who just got blown up with an RPG.”
The non-veteran groups at San Quentin could not grasp the PTSD created when incarcerated veterans defended their country.
Self immediately realized there needed to be a yard just for veterans — a yard where their specific traumas and issues could be addressed. However, before he could accomplish his new goal, he had to develop a program to help veterans.
That program became a reality in 2014 when he formed the “Veterans Healing Veterans Group.”
After designing the group, he finished serving his sentence for attempted murder and began lobbying state and federal officials for a veterans’ hub.
Self’s dream became a reality when he attended the ceremony last year at Soledad to cut the ribbon.
Soledad Warden Craig Koenig told all who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, “Our goal with the veterans’ facility is to gather incarcerated veterans into one place.”
Self’s program has many additional benefits besides the therapeutic remedies. Reporter Copp stated “part of preparing people to get out is speeding up the process of connecting the incarcerated veterans to their VA benefits.”
She cited a scenario where veterans who seek disability benefits. These past war heroes need a comprehensive examination that is difficult to get while incarcerated. Currently the veterans must wait years to be seen by providers who have thousands of veterans in their case portfolio.
Veteran Liaison Wade told Copp, “With a centralized location now, the VA doesn’t have to travel to 34 prisons. They can come to one.”
According to Copp, an improved facility specifically designed to assist in the traumatic disorders of veterans, combined with a consolidated benefit program should help the incarcerated veterans transfer back to society in a smoother fashion.
Prison officials say they will be tracking the success of the program while soldiers like Wade and Self support their fellow soldiers. Continued support of these Americans and the reduction of recidivism rates will be the defining test if the new veterans hub at Soledad will be considered a success.
Copp stated improved services for veterans who live together will make it less likely they will reoffend, and will give the men a second chance at a dignified life.