Costly mistakes have landed an estimated 107,400 veterans in prison, according to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But many say they are still proud of their service and are honored to celebrate Veteran’s Day.
All military veterans, living or deceased, are honored on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” — the genesis of Veterans Day looking back to the Armistice ending World War I.
“I served on a Navy destroyer during the Vietnam War, I fired a lot of shells and did a lot of drinking to numb myself from what was going on around me,” said San Quentin resident James “Shorty” Dunbar. “I lost my hearing listening to the cannon fire.”
Millions of men and women have sacrificed their lives fighting and dying valiantly in the cause of freedom. Since America’s founding, Americans have fought for the values that America stands for and the hopes and dreams of the American people.
SQ resident Bobby Jackson served in the U.S. Marine Corps and went to Vietnam in the late 1960s. Jackson has been incarcerated since 1982. He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other illnesses, like many war veterans. He believes some of his ailments resulted from exposure to Agent Orange.
“I got mixed feelings about wars and I don’t like the fact that all these young people are still being killed,” Jackson said. “And for me, the flag is symbolic of the struggles minorities have long faced in this country. But I am hope-ful that things are getting better.”
The history of America is one of slavery, racism and oppression. But even so, America allows people to dream and be hopeful that freedom is real and attainable.
“I got a lot of respect for these youngsters, I respect anybody who puts their life on the line for this country,” said Jackson.
SQ resident Carl Raybon served 10 years in the Marine Corps before he was honorably discharged. He served on the USS Enterprise during a bombing raid that took place in Leb-anon. He has been imprisoned for the past 15 years.
“I treat my incarceration like being deployed on a ship. That’s how I cope with being away from loved ones.” he said.
Larry “Mississippi” Clemons served six years in the 42nd Bravo Division of the U.S. Army. “It was a time in my life I can be proud of,” said Clemons. “For me the flag symbolizes freedom; even as an abused Black veteran it still represents something I did that was great.”
Clemons has been in prison for 31 years and is now 60 years old.
The men of High Desert State Prison’s Facility A wrote a letter to San Quentin News to share what Veteran’s Day means to them. They said it’s a day to also honor all the men and women who died because of COVID-19.
The High Desert men put together an anthology called the F.L.A.G. project, honoring the medical personnel treating COVID victims.
“We did this to show our unbending appreciation for our health care workers and mental health care workers, and all first responders, for keeping us safe in this era of COVID-19,” wrote resident Maurice “Elijah Siddiq” Ainsworth.
“Sometimes I look at the flag and feel proud — proud that it’s a symbol of the greatest nation this planet has ever known,” said Marine Corps veteran Leon Smith.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs re-ported 19 million American military veterans in 2021. Over a million of those military veterans were women. There are now transgender veterans and veterans from all ethnic backgrounds who are honored for their contributions to the safety of Americans.
I am hopeful that one day its colors (the flag) will reflect the beauty of all people,” said resident Tommie Hall.
“I had a strong sense of pride ever since I was a child traveling to see national monuments,” wrote Emil Ogg, a U.S. Navy veteran housed at High Desert. “Every time I looked at the flag, I’d say to myself, ‘indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”
The three Black military veterans interviewed and others who wrote had mixed feelings about fighting for a country that has a history of not being very hospitable to Blacks. Some saw themselves as fighting two wars — one for American freedom and the other for Black freedom.
This country has its flaws and a history that has not been the greatest,” wrote Ste-ven Drew Allee. “But it has evolved over time, battle-scarred, and it shows its beauty from its struggles. It is forever growing and changing. In this way it is similar to myself and many others wearing the blue CDCR uniform,” Allee wrote.