BY TERRY HUBERT, CHAIR
At the Leadership Conference in Greenville, VIC presented
a seminar entitled “VIC 101: Introduction to Veterans
Incarcerated Chapters.” We presented the seminar
initially to the VMW Convention and VVA Leadership Conference
late Thursday afternoon, although we had to compete with
a live band on Main St. On Saturday morning, VIC vice-chair
Tom Burke and I, already challenged by the 45-minute allotment,
experienced a fire alarm and hotel evacuation that encroached
even more on our time.
Upon my return from South Carolina
and a visit with family and old friends in North Carolina,
I encountered an unexpected backlog of VIC mail forwarded
from The VVA Veteran. While on the road for two weeks,
I managed to stay abreast of the seemingly endless flow
of email associated with VVA National business, but I was
daunted by the task of reading and responding to dozens
of kites—also known as prison correspondence.
write a lot of kites. Most ask for help with problems, ask
questions, or have issues that need immediate attention.
There are prison medical requests and grievance forms, inmate
correspondence and package forms, and all kinds of questions
involving programming and education needs.
There also are
questions and anxieties about parole or cellmates and unit
housing assignments; endless questions and problems for caseworkers
and counselors to manage; many questions about classification
issues that end up in the warden’s
lap; appeals to directors, governors, and legislators, as
well as the courts and newspapers, Congress, or anybody who
may help or be empathetic. The term comes from the saying: “Why
don’t you fly a kite to the warden?” or “Write
a kite to the Captain,” or jokingly, “If you
really want that bed move, drop a snitch kite.”
are creative and write on any available medium. Many are
prolific, particularly those who are litigious, the dreaded “writ
writers.” In an attempt to
channel this energy, some institutions permit prisoner newspapers
such as The Angolite at the Louisiana State Prison. Another
example: The Eagle Speaks from the Fountain/Davis Correctional
Facility in Alabama, America’s “Oldest Continuing
Veterans Incarcerated Newsletter.”
The higher a staff
member moves through corrections or is perceived as having
influence or “juice,” the
more kites he receives. The number of responses to the Veterans
Incarcerated Report took me back to my days in Nevada prison
yards and the dilemma of responding to letters.
VIC 101 dealt
with the issue of “What We Can and Cannot
Do,” what we, as a veterans’ service organization,
can expect to accomplish working inside prisons. Reading
kites involves sorting them into four piles. One large stack
requesting counsel and legal help is given a very low response
priority because VVA does not have the funds or staff to
support these types of requests.
Quite a few of the kites
involve veteran eligibility benefit issues and contain questions
that require help from trained veteran service officers.
The State Councils and local Chapters may help with this
only if they are fortunate enough to have a service officer
able to enter the prison. However, the VA has now hired veteran
re-entry specialists in all the VISNs. Incarcerated veteran
organizations should seek out these VA re-entry specialists
and invite them to attend meetings and contact prison administrators
to facilitate VA re-entry services. VVA State Councils should
encourage their state Veterans Commissions to consider providing
basic veteran service assistance to justice-involved veterans
in jail or prison.
A third pile of kites is from incarcerated veterans
seeking programs that provide transitional residential services.
Some older veterans are unable to work and need mental health
and rehabilitative help. Programs to help these veterans
are few and far between, but new re-entry beds are becoming
available through the VA and some community nonprofit organizations.
Veterans with patterns of serious violence or sexual offenses
often face insurmountable obstacles for release and often
are denied acceptance in residential treatment programs.
were some letters that were easily resolved, particularly
those writing because they have not received the last copies
of The Veteran. There were several letters from veterans
sending me greetings and information about their incarcerated
programs and activities. I appreciate hearing from them and
will read these kites and help where and how I can. I apologize
for being unable to respond directly to many of these letters,
but rest assured I read them and am quite empathetic to many
of the problems and issues facing veterans in prison. I will
address some of these issues in future Veterans Incarcerated
Reports. In the meantime, feel free to fly me a kite.