Membership Notes, March/April 2015
Veterans Behind Bars Helping Veterans
BY MARC LEEPSON
Gary Newman, the founder and president of Clay County, Florida, Chapter 1059, and his friend Tony D’Aleo, the president of Nicholas J. Cutinha Chapter 1046 in Duval County, Florida, have been strong supporters of veterans involved in the judicial system, as well as veterans incarcerated. Both men do volunteer work for Jacksonville’s innovative Veterans Treatment Courtsalso known as Veterans Courtswhich went into operation in 2011.
Newman was instrumental in founding Chapter 1080 in 2013 at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida. Chapter 1080 now has ninety members living in their own wing, the Veterans Dormitory, at the maximum-security facility. The chapter came into being after Newman replied to an inmate who had written to Chapter 1059 asking to make contact with local veterans.
“He wrote to all the local veterans organizations,” Newman said. “No one else responded. We got a chapter going with the help of the assistant warden.”
Chapter 1080’s members are very active, Newman said. Among other things, they have worked with VVA members and other veterans in what Newman called “a very successful program of saving abandoned dogs from a Jacksonville kennel. We adopt the dogs from the shelter, socialize them through a three-to-four-month training program, and then re-adopt them to others as companion dogs. The dogs are trained to the point where they can easily move to the higher level of therapy dogs.”
Not long after Newman helped get Chapter 1080 running, he came up with an idea to expand the activities of the Jacksonville Veterans Court program. He envisioned a “scared straight” endeavor called the Veterans Interactive Program (VIP) in which young veterans caught in the legal system and brought before the Veterans Court come into the prison to meet one on one with incarcerated Vietnam veterans.
With Newman doing the legwork with the prison system and D’Aleo handling everything that involved the courts, the program began last October. Newman and D’Aleo
received invaluable help from Fourth Judicial Circuit Court Judge John Sampson, the court’s Public Defenders Office, the State Attorney’s Office, and Union Correctional Institution Warden Diane Andrews and Assistant Warden Stephen Rossiter.
“The VIP program would not have begun without the trust and cooperation of Judge Sampson,” Newman said.
The program is designed, he said, “to divert younger veterans from further contact with the criminal justice system. It is a non-confrontational program taking war veteransnearly all of whom have seen combatand sitting them down and having them talk to older veterans about their war experiences and what things were like when they came back.”
There was “no PTSD treatment back then for Vietnam vets,” Newman said, “Nothing for traumatic brain injury, no employment programs, no rehabilitation programs. The young kids coming back do have that now, and they need to hear that from the older veterans.”
The first group of fourteen young veteransknown as menteeswent to the prison to meet with Chapter 1080 mentors last October. Newman and several other VVA members drove them there in their own vehicles. “We went to the visitors area and the inmates paired up with the mentees,” he said. “All fourteen saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The second VIP program took place in late February. More are planned in the future.
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