On January 20, 2013 El Paso County Criminal Justice Center – CJC created a ward that was designed to house veterans, at the time, one of very few in the country. It was designed to bring together veterans, who would have “like” things in common, for those veteran offenders to hopefully create camaraderie.
The only problem is that it was not being used that way; it was the same on the inside as any other ward, other than appearance. Instead it was a façade of what it was meant to be, all you heard was the same county jail stories – glorifying crime, women and drugs and no camaraderie.
Now, four years later, an evolution has taken place over the last three months. It has now become a place where veterans, who may have lost their direction, their sense of being and most of all their sense of camaraderie, can meet together and rebuild their lost trust.
Trust is what made the change.
Trust by the commander, programs staff and the ward staff that placed a great deal of confidence in a small nucleus of the veteran offenders who were housed there. From an initial group of seven veteran offenders, we were allowed to initiate a veteran offender support group. This support group was initiated by veteran offenders for veteran offenders inside the walls of CJC and has now grown and expanded outside the walls.
Our goal was to make this a purely open environment, where the support structure was merely the honest open caring of one veteran brother for another, albeit within a county jail. We did not want it as another program derived by staff, but instead initiated by veteran offenders, to revive the camaraderie and support that we all had in the military, but more especially, the creating of trust that most veterans do not find or have with civilians.
We would like to introduce you to that support group, WARRIORS FIRST
In October 2016, a small group of seven veteran offenders, got together to just talk. Some of us had unfortunately been here too many times; in fact just about all of us had traveled this road before – the revolving door at CJC.
Some by our actions, others by our failure to recognize problems and all of us because of our lack of knowledge on how to change.
After a lot of discussion about our own problems we settled on “the concern of just one brother.” This particular brother was one who had been here before, got out, came back and got out again. This particular brother was in crisis. A crisis that we could not help him with, because he was outside and we were inside. We were left with a total sense of helplessness. For many of us it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
In this particular case our brother got out, had someone waiting to pick him up
, had a job waiting for him, had a place to stay, had all the components that MOST people would need to get started and thrive – EXCEPT he had no one to STOP him from his own self destruction.
Our goal at that juncture was to make available to everyone who passes through these doors the ear to listen, the hand to guide, the tools and experiences of all those who came before to not have one brother lost inside this jail or on the streets. That even in crisis there will always be someone to call, someone who cares and someone to hold each of us accountable out of concern for just one brother.
This piece of our literature more than sums it up:
It’s not a class or program, it is simply a safe environment for fellow veterans to come together and begin to build the camaraderie and friendship we once had while serving.
Since transitioning out of the service or coming home from combat overseas, we are losing Veterans to suicide, addiction, and incarceration at an alarming rate. These losses are unacceptable.
By creating camaraderie we hope to find our purpose again and realize that the battle for our lives has just begun… No matter where we go or what mistakes we make we must remember that we will always be WARRIORS FIRST!
Without guidance or prodding of the administration of this jail, without thought of personal gain on anyone’s part, but out of sheer concern and regard for our fellow veteran brothers. We do this because of passion, passion to make a change in our lives, our families and in our communities. We see this as our new “battle,” our new mission. This has grown from the spark inside a few of us, now into a fire inside a majority of us. This fire grows stronger every week, with new recruits, with new ideas, with constant sharing and camaraderie.
Before coming to WARRIORS FIRST, we worked on managing our lives outside the military, with different levels of success and failure. We could not live and enjoy life as other people do.
We had to have something different to replace the camaraderie that we once had, and unfortunately that was through bad behavior, bad associations and a failure to recognize outside negative influences.
We placed our inability to fit into society and our own egos above the welfare of our families, our wives, husbands and our children. We had to have that adrenaline rush, that feeling of being in charge at all costs.
We have done a great many people harm and most of all we have harmed ourselves. Through our inability to accept personal responsibilities we were actually creating our own problems. We have acted incapable of facing life on its own terms.
Most of us have realized that this destructive behavior was just another way of slowly joining the 22 veterans a day who commit suicide. This cunning enemy was different from all others we faced in the military, this enemy we could not gain power over.
Many of us have ended up here in jail and many more will go on to prison, some sought other more dangerous sources outside to deal with the demons.
None of these were sufficient enough, so we have now turned to our own brothers who create that camaraderie we had lost and a safe place for us to talk and listen.
We now realize we are not the bad people we thought we were, but warriors that had lost their cause. We have now found that cause through our own fellowship, leadership, and commitment to change through support of each other.
We see that there is a niche – veteran offenders – that no one is taking care of, much less supporting. We are now working on developing or creating jobs, housing and long term rehabilitation in ways that work. The system as it stands regarding re entry into the community from prison or jail for offenders is not working. A “legal” monopoly for specific people to make money on those who are caught in this cycle, by allowing the same scenarios of the current halfway houses, that guarantees automatic recidivism. Placing them in low income areas, where known drug and prostitution are prevalent. We thought out a better solution.
There are many inherent problems with the current system of halfway houses and their programs. They are mired in old philosophies, using the same old techniques and programs, reminding offenders of institutional programming that they know does not work.
Our philosophy is:
First, change the environment. Military environment/rural/urban
- Secondly, remove the temptations and have offenders focus on themselves, getting clean, staying clean, and teaching them about work and work ethics and most of all giving them physical exertion – hard physical workouts allowing them to work out aggression and focus on creating – literally too tired to think about anything else.
Third, give them a real life education about work and business and making them feel good about themselves, uplifting their self esteem, bringing their voices to bear.
When the WARRIORS FIRST veteran offenders support group was created, one of the biggest factors we discovered that we all had in common, was the lack of camaraderie. Camaraderie is the basis of communication.
That communication, in turn allows us to build back trust, which most of us are lacking. When we are allowed to communicate with other veteran offenders the help and the healing can start.
The staff – particularly the Commander, Randy King, and Programs Manger, Janet King see for this to succeed requires allowing us to have contact with those who get out. CJC is now in the process of establishing a “hotline” for those veteran offenders who leave this ward and who have a crisis – they will be able to call back in on the hotline and speak with one of us – one of us who they have created trust and garnered support with, to reassure them and to further their success outside.
We earned that privilege as well as others that denote and set us apart, not because we are “special,” but because we have shown that we can hold each other accountable, and maintain that pledge to each other by garnering trust in each other and the ideals we have instilled within us as veterans.
THE STAFF HAS ALREADY SEEN THIS IN ACTION
One of our brothers was released prior to the holidays and had a crisis. By utilizing our contact phone list and one of our outside support services (RMHS) from our ACAP list, we were able to track this brother down in Aurora, get face to face contact with him, and take him out of a bad environment and put him with a WF Battle Buddy, who stayed with him during the holidays. Now he is stable, with a job, checks in daily and is working on dealing with his “demons” without substance abuse.
This limited, albeit early success; is due to continued, daily communication and support, both inside and out. We do this by talking about how we lost sight, how we replaced those core values that were instilled within us in the military with a different twisted set that we created, based on our circumstances and our own rationalization, that put us inside this facility.
Whether we had good parents, bad parents, or no parents the one positive thing the military did, was to instill these basic core values. We did not lose them, just lost sight of them or used them to justify our bad behavior.
We have all the components to do the right things, to be the examples, to be the ones we need to be – we just lost sight of our mission, our purpose and our camaraderie of support. We are here to get it all back and to hopefully not cross those lines again.
the overall inroad that we have made has been that communication factor. Out of a possible 72 veteran inmate offenders in the Veterans Ward/G-1 we have had consistent participation with an average of 42% of the Veterans Ward population, or about 30 veterans’ attending weekly meetings (M, W, TH, and F) to talk, listen and to help.
We believe that the reason that we have been successful in this support group is that we are all on the same level playing field – incarcerated. Most, if not all the men in these wards have never taken the initiative to sit down with other veterans and “hash” out their feelings, problems and fears. In our small group they are able to voice, cry and share their problems as well as their solutions of how they handled these individual problems. More importantly, they are able to rebuild levels of trust, the one thing we all have in common – a lack of trust outside the military with the civilian population.
In our support sessions men are able share some of their deepest darkest fears without the fear of being made fun of and without fear of being judged. The military was supposed to help veterans getting out of military service to deal with these problems and internal fears. Instead they put in our heads that if we had problems then we should not talk about them, unless you wanted to be labeled and held back or worse not be allowed to go directly home after deployment.
This is wrong. What you see today is the result of a government so quick to get rid of its veterans and its responsibilities, instead pushing them off on the civilian population to deal with. If you actually reviewed the cases of the men in this ward you will find that the majority of them and their crimes are a result of some problem that could have been dealt with inside the military complex, instead it was left to fester on their its own, and becoming a civilian problem.
We do not deny that we have in most cases broke some law, but helping to understand the reasons behind our actions is far more important that ignoring the reasons and simply warehousing the problems, hoping that they will simply go away.
The Unites States of America makes up 5.3% of the world’s population and yet has 25% of its population under the direct control of its courts, jails and prisons.
Colorado currently has 26.2% of its population under the direct control of its courts, jails and prisons.
More than three-quarters (77%) of incarcerated veterans received military discharges that were honorable or under honorable conditions.
An estimated two-thirds of veterans in prison (67%) and jail (66%) were discharged from military service between 1974 and 2000.
From 2001 to 2012, veterans discharged during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn accounted for 13% of veterans in prison and 25% of veterans in jail.
A quarter of veterans in prison (25%) and less than a third of veterans in jail (31%) reported that they had been in combat while in the military.
About half of all veterans in prison (48%) and jail (55%) had been told by a mental health professional they had a mental disorder.
Incarcerated veterans who saw combat (60% in prison and 67% in jail) were more likely than noncombat veterans (44% in prison and 49% in jail) to have been told they had a mental disorder.