Virginia state prison honors incarcerated veterans for Veterans Day

Kaylah Jackson
November 07, 2018 - 10:24 am

Photo courtesy of George Sission


For some, honoring veterans is a few dollars off a burger or free admission to the zoo. For the incarcerated veterans in the Haynesville Correctional Center, it means something very different.

As Rossa Ridley, "Ms. Ridley," as referred to by the offenders, describes, having this Veterans Day program is a way for the men to change their way of thinking. “So they don’t look at themselves as felons, but as veterans,” she said.

Ridley is one of the on-site psychologists at Haynesville. She, along with correctional officers and Warden Darrell Miller, were in the audience for the Veterans Day program. One side of the auditorium filled with prison staff. The other, with about 60 men all wearing jeans and collared shirts, some with ties for the special occasion. While they might have worn BDU's or Formal Dress at one point during their military service, today they wore the same hue of blue.

Photo courtesy of George Sisson

Similar to the start of many military events, the program opened with a color guard. Although many of the veterans had been out for decades, they stood with the same honor and respect as a brand-new enlistee during the presentation of the colors.

One-by-one, veterans moved to the podium to offer encouraging words to each other in the audience, some through poems and some through speeches chronicling the history of veterans in the facility. They're reminded that although their own decisions landed them in Haynesville, they have the chance to turn their lives around, and they can do it by reaching deep down and recalling those military values they learned so long ago.

"It's ingrained in us; it's instilled in us; it's contagious," said Garfield Holley, a Navy veteran and one of the offenders who spoke during the program.

Photo courtesy of George Sisson

Along with honoring the veterans themselves, the men made a point to highlight the impact of the center's administrators, including Ms.Ridley. After receiving a certificate of appreciation from the group of men, she offered words of encouragement to them.

"I have a unique perspective because I was there...I'm in the business of helping my people be better," said Ridley. As a Navy veteran herself, she uses both education and personal military experience to connect with the veteran offenders in the prison. 

Photo courtesy of George Sisson

At the end of the program, the chairs are put away and correctional officers guided the men back towards the confines of the compound. But for Veterans Day, in Haynesville, for a few hours, the veterans are center stage. They're honored for their service and celebrated for making progress to start a new life outside of the prison walls.

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