BY JAKE SCHUESSLER
“He’s a teacher, you know?” That was how Lloyd Gray Taylor’s wife, Linda, answered when I called to speak to him. I should’ve known better than to call before 3 p.m. on a school day.
Taylor, a Vietnam veteran and special education teacher at Thomas Dale High School, is a volunteer working with incarcerated veterans in penitentiaries in Virginia. He came to our attention because of a letter from a member of Chapter 682 at the Powhatan Correctional Facility.
“Everyone wants to be labeled a hero, ” VVA’s Michael Missett wrote, “but very few are willing to be a servant. The servant gives of his time, money, talent, and self. Mr. Taylor gives all of these things, and much more, enriching the lives of many imprisoned men, troubled teenagers, and families.”
Taylor, however, describes his efforts as a volunteer in a much more humble way.
When Taylor returned to his hometown several years after the war, he started teaching and began attending the same church as his parents. Another member of the congregation, Chaplain Robert Floyd, had served with Taylor in Vietnam and even went on R&R with him. Floyd and Taylor reunited and began getting together regularly for family dinners. One night, the Chaplain informed Taylor that he had received a contract with the VA to counsel Vietnam veterans and their wives dealing with PTSD. Taylor had been suffering with PTSD since returning from the war, and it was wreaking havoc on his marriage. He started attending Floyd’s counseling services with his wife and several other veteran couples.
“Every night, ” Taylor said, “the Chaplain would walk us out to our car, and he would put his hand on my shoulder. ‘Gray, ’ he would say, ‘there is a group of inmates at Powhatan prison who are trying to start a veterans group. I think you would benefit by going down there, and so would the men.’ ”
But Taylor resisted his call to serve, at least at first. “I finally gave in, just to get the Chaplain off my back, ” Taylor said, laughing heartily. “That was twenty years ago.”
Taylor, along with Chaplain Floyd, who died in 2013, worked with twenty-five to thirty incarcerated veterans at the maximum-security prison in Powhatan. Taylor and Floyd spearheaded projects with the incarcerated veterans, such as sending letters of encouragement to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, fundraising for various charities, and helping veterans earn their degrees.
“I would get them benefits information and the state council meeting minutes. After you get to know a man, they might ask me to write them a letter of recommendation. I was just their friend, ” Taylor said. He insisted that he used the group more than they used him.
“I used to drive home in the evenings after volunteering, wondering what I could do to help keep troubled youth from ending up there, ” Taylor said. He found troubled high-school students and took them to the prison to talk with the incarcerated vets about their life choices. Besides providing a powerful lesson for young people about the consequences of their actions, the program also provided an opportunity for veterans to feel good about doing something meaningful, in an environment without many chances to make a positive impact on the outside world. Taylor estimates that he’s taken more than a hundred young people to speak with imprisoned vets.
One of these students, Matt, is the son of a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and substance abuse issues. One day in Taylor’s youth group, Matt mentioned how desperately he wanted a piano so that he could start to play the music he was composing. Taylor went back to the veterans group and told them about this young man.
“And you know what they did?” Taylor said. “They passed around the hat. These guys, who were only making 18-20 cents an hour, were pledging $20 or more so they could buy this kid they had never even met a piano.”
Taylor told Matt to meet him at his car one day; he drove him to a musical instrument store, explaining along the way what they were doing. Matt couldn’t speak for fifteen minutes. When they pulled up in front of the store, Matt asked Taylor: “Why are these guys doing this for me? They don’t even know me.”
Taylor told him, “It’s like a triangle. They love me, and they know I love you, and so they want to help you. And one day you can go over there and play your music for them.”
Matt did go back and play for the veterans who had helped him. Two years later he received a music scholarship to go to college. He is about to graduate from Liberty University with a degree in divinity.
The VVA chapter at Powhatan Correctional has since disbanded, but Taylor continues to volunteer with a larger group of veterans at Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron, Va. He is trying to transfer the Chapter 682 name to his new group. Taylor also is working with the prison wardens there to allow troubled youth to visit this incarcerated chapter.