Support, rehabilitation, example at heart of veterans group
Story by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Lt. Robert Kelsey, AA/Public Information Officer
Sierra Conservation Center
For veterans doing time at Sierra Conservation Center, helping other veterans is a way of giving back and also serves as another key to their own rehabilitation.
The group is known as the Veterans Incarcerated Program (VIP).
“Our veterans group here at SCC (crafted) donation bags at their expense and on their own time to be distributed in the community,” said Lt. Robert Kelsey, SCC’s AA/Public Information Officer. “Once the bags are done, Denay Neeley, the group’s sponsor, will take them to her local church to be filled with toiletries and non-perishable food items. Once this is done the filled bags will be taken to … Vietnam Veterans of America Local 391 and will be distributed to veterans in need in our community.”
The duffel bag charitable project was geared toward providing homeless veterans with basic health care and grooming supplies. It’s one of many projects undertaken by the group.
Neeley, the group’s sponsor, said those who have served in the military have a special bond.
“Brotherhood is maintained (and) non-service people do not have the same experience,” Neeley said of the benefit for the inmates. “There is also accountability for actions, then and now.”
She said VIP provides many benefits for the institution as well.
“There is positivity on the yard, mentoring, volunteering, encouraging, accountability, peer support, respect and much more,” she said.
One inmate member said, “(The group) gives us goals to strive for by successfully helping in the community. The group can effectively change the minds of inmates and develop self-esteem.”
Another said the group “helps remind members about the important things in life.”
Neeley said the group is involved in many activities.
“Stamps to wounded vets, bags of groceries that are reusable for homeless vets and writing letters of encouragement to active service members are some of the projects,” she said.
Finding confidence to dive into rehabilitative self-help programs is also a benefit, according to another inmate member.
“When the incarcerated veterans join the program, they become more outspoken and less intimidated, giving themselves more of an opportunity to join other self-help programs,” he said. “The participants in the VIP often find like-minded inmates on the yard … to help gain the resources they need to further their own rehabilitation.”
Other benefits include allowing the veteran inmates to participate in tournaments, fundraisers and community involvement. If medical issues arise which were possibly connected to their time of military service, they can also more easily be connected with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“The inmates involved with VIP are able to have greater access to the forms and information pertaining to the various programs available from the VA, such as, but not limited to, discharge upgrade, housing support upon release to parole and various medical benefits,” the inmate member said.
Another member said the group is an example.
“This also shows the inmate population there is a better way to live even in prison,” he said. “The conduct of the group helps us to respect staff and lead an example of respect to other inmates in hopes to influence them positively.”
Another said it’s about providing support.
“The comradeship found in the group is a respite from the prison environment,” he said. “We help each other to cope with doing time.”
Neeley said ultimately the group’s goal is to create a better future for the inmate and society.
“Hopefully, (the group is) providing resources and accountability when being released from incarceration,” she said.