April 28, 2011

Thoughts from the Heart

by Joseph Smith (author's profile)


Thoughts For the Heart

For those who have fought for it, "freedom" has a flavor the protected will never know.

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 822 is one of the few chapters behind prison walls. in 1999, 25 prisoners (Vietnam era veterans) petitioned to the national office for a chapter. We were from all walks of life—black, Jewish, Hispanic. We didn't ask why the person was in prison—it's a question never asked of another prisoner. The only requirements: you had to produce a valid DD 214 (proof of military service) or other suitable military papers. To keep down the fraud, the papers had to come from the National Military Record Center and mailed to one of our staff advisors who supervised the group. Then the person was permitted active membership in the chapter.

Ezekiel 37:1-4 speaks about the vision of dry bones. We, as veterans incarcerated, are viewed as such—hopeless, lifeless, and without a future. God tells Ezekiel that no one is beyond hope and redemption. Since the inception of the chapter in 1999, $70+ have been given out in community service grants and donations to organizations throughout central Ohio, and to two local elementary schools that we have adopted.

Chapter 822 will cease operations at the North Central Correctional Institution on September 11, 2011. The state of Ohio is selling this prison and four others in order to close a $8 billion dollar gap, so they can balance their budget by July 1, 2011. These prisons are going to be sold to private entrepreneurs seeking to make a profit off the backs of helpless prisoners who will not fare well in the hands of those seeking a profit. Plus, with a declining membership, due in part to the death of members, and with members going home, the required members needed to keep the chapter cannot be met. And there's the transfers that will take place in the near future too. The chapter mission here will cease at North Central Correctional Institution.

It has been an honor and a privilege for me to be part of this mission and be among the men and women (staff advisors) here at the chapter. The chapter has proven to be very viable and effective here at North Central. In face of insurmountable odds, the chapter was still able to make a difference. It organized large fund raisers for the charities and two schools we support.

The veterans reentry program assisted veterans being released with services that would help them with a new start in society—assistance with clothing, housing, job referrals, medical and mental health services through the VA, as well as with alcohol and drug treatment services geared towards veterans. These services are in conjunction with the private sector. Organizations that have step up to help veterans being released back into society include financial and educational assistance to the two local elementary schools. It has not only proven to be a smart thing to do, but the right thing to do to assist with the education of American children. One step further from guns, one step further from drugs, the use or sell of them, one more step away from violence, a tool that enhances the possibility of American children to live lives of hope and fulfillment—lives of creativity and production, not lives of destruction and violence.

This is our hope and our prayer. To say it will be easy to cease operations on 9-11-11 is to say that it was all in vain? It was not.

Semp Fi

Joseph Smith, Chapter President
VVA Chapter 822
North Central Correctional Institution
Marion, Ohio


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