A Massachusetts-based nonprofit is focused on giving formerly imprisoned veterans a new lease on life. Three years ago, Soldier On, an organization that offers various health and housing programs for former service members, introduced a unique program dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated veterans find employment.
From Soldier On’s website:
Beginning September 2014, veterans willing to participate in the program are separated into their own pod at the jail where they are interviewed and assessed and then provided special counseling and other services with the intent of fully reintegrating them back into the community and reducing their rate of recidivism. Each veteran is individually evaluated for their needs around substance abuse, physical and mental health, and behavioral history and then provided services specifically tailored to the veteran’s personal needs.
The pod involves approximately 45 hours of programming in a classroom-like setting each week. Each session is developed with the goal of readying veterans for life beyond prison.
The program has experienced great success from the start, recently expanding into Mississippi, Fox News reported.
In 2016, the Mississippi Department of Corrections implemented Solider On’s methods at one of its facilities. So far, the program has helped at least 56 former inmates and veterans get re-acclimated to society after serving their sentences.
“Programs like this are going to save the state money because we’ll have fewer people in prison and more rehabilitated people getting on the right track and improving their lives, their family and their community,” MDOC commissioner Patricia E. Hall said in a June news release about the program. “This is a workforce development program that changes the direction of people who may have gone down the wrong road. This turns them into tax payers rather than tax burdens.”
The program was first implemented in 2014 at the Albany County Correctional Facility in New York. Soldier On told Fox that 277 veterans at the ACCF have been admitted into the program since 2014. Out of those 277, only 12 have returned to prison due to a new offense.
According to Fox, the new inmate veterans program in Mississippi was started with the help of Voice of Calvary Ministries, which works with homeless veterans and their families.
“It really is a well put together program that works with the veterans,” Phil Reed, president and CEO of VOCM, told Fox. “[It makes them think about] what kind of choices did you make to get you here and what are you going to do differently starting today and especially when you get out so you don’t make the choice to come back?”
In addition to the moral focus, Soldier On has also worked to ensure that its services are economically responsible. B.R. Hawkins, the grants manager for Soldier On in Mississippi, told Fox that the inmate veterans program is funded by federal grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor at no cost to state taxpayers.
“We work with them in getting stable housing before they come out,” Hawkins said. “And work with them as much as possible to get a job before they come out. So right now we have about 38 veterans enrolled in our program.”
Hawkins and her team personally check in on each former inmate to assure that they are adjusting well to post-prison life. Although many employers are hesitant about hiring ex-convicts, Hawkins said she’s found plenty who have been willing to give these individuals a second chance.
Former inmate Otis Banks, who served in the National Guard before being convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping, spent 15 years at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility following his conviction.
“I didn’t have to do what I did, but we all make bad choices at times, we have to live with those choices,” Banks, who now describes himself as a devout Christian, told Fox.
He says Soldier On’s program helped prepare him for his release last year. He now has a car, an apartment, and a steady job.
“It was hard for me to acquire my social security card or a drivers license or an ID and you understand that you need that to even find a job,” Banks said. “It was so many people that was going out of their way to make sure that I had these items. The program is truly a blessing.”
(H/T: Fox News)