At the Grafton Correctional Facility outside of Cleveland, OH veteran inmates are housed in a separate ward. There are no discipline problems in the Veterans Ward.
The veterans run a for-profit business; a restaurant called the ODR. The restaurant is for officers, administrators, and guests of the prison. The veterans incarcerated who run the ODR take pride in their facility. Profits from their successful restaurant are donated to local charities. The menu offers good food at competitive prices.
The men who run the ODR are chefs, waiters, dishwashers, purveyors of food, menu planners, and bookkeepers—skills transferable if they make parole. These men were once soldiers. They were awarded Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, Army Commendations, and even a Silver Star. They committed murder. They committed armed robbery. They sold drugs and were convicted of other high-level felonies. All of them are repeat offenders who first appeared in the court system on lesser charges. Many are serving 25-to-life.
Their participation in the management of the restaurant inspires hope in a hopeless place. These veterans are trustees; all seem to enjoy trusted relationships with the prison staff. They are soldiers.
These veterans incarcerated suffered from PTSD and TBI upon discharge from the military. Both disorders occur in troops who have been in or near combat or have otherwise witnessed war’s damage. PTSD is emotionally based; TBI is physical.
Many of these men could have been saved from prison had there been Veteran Treatment Courts available to them when they returned home. Veteran Treatment Courts recognize PTSD and TBI as symptoms of bad behavior in veterans who are back in the community. The collateral damage they suffer from their duty in war may advance to primal behavior upon return to an unsupportive neighborhood.
Here is an example: A young Marine who joined to fight the “bad guys” and get away from a bad neighborhood served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was honorably discharged in the middle of his second enlistment after serving six years. He was a sergeant. He has two Purple Hearts. He led a squad in a line company that cleared houses door to door of Taliban/ISIS. Once, a sniper shot a kid in his squad in the neck and killed him and shot another kid in the thigh. He fired an RPG into the wall of the house where the sniper was. He killed the snipers. There were also two young children in that house. Their bodies were found partially covered in the rocks and rubble. It was a good military kill, but the memory haunts him.
He returned home to the old neighborhood. His girlfriend was living with his best friend. Their child was living with the best friend’s mother. He had no job. He began to drink. He had no friends, no support, no purpose. He had nightmares. He struggled to make peace with himself about the two children who were killed. He was arrested for the first time, drunk and disorderly, five months after his discharge. He resisted arrest.
Luckily, he was identified as a veteran and diverted to a Veteran Treatment Court and diagnosed with PTSD and TBI. The judge, a veteran himself, connected the Marine with a VA counselor and a veteran mentor. He returns to court once a week. He is treated for drug and alcohol abuse.
The court gave him hope. The court is training the Marine to use resources in place for him. The court is training the Marine to return to the community. His chances for success are good.
Had there been no Veteran Treatment Court it is likely that the Marine would have committed more crimes, perhaps a high-level felony. None of the veterans incarcerated at Grafton had a Veterans Treatment Court available to them. Many of them suffer from undiagnosed PTSD and TBI, and many of them—not all, but many of them—could have been saved had we understood the collateral damage of war.
By Dominick Yezzo, Chair of Veterans Incarcerated
Source: The VVA Veteran