Supporting Argument 3a. There will be extra time credit programs available for any person who has served active duty in the US Military.
We recommend that the programs offered to veterans consist of mental health and drug treatments aimed at reducing various war-related stresses and illnesses that are common among men and women who have served in our armed forces. Upon completion of each program, there shall be a day for day satisfactory-time-participation credit toward the sentence of each participant. Credits will vary depending upon the length of time required for the completion of each program.
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Herbert Richardson was a Vietnam War Veteran. Growing up, he had a troubled childhood. His mother died when he was just three years old and as a young teenager growing up in poverty, he struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. In 1964, Herbert, like many other young men during that time, looked to escape a life of disenfranchisement and exclusion and so enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was 18 years old. Herbert was sent to Camp Radcliff in An Khe, Vietnam, an area known for extremely heavy fighting in the mid-1960’s, where he saw many of his friends killed or severely injured. On one mission in particular, Herbert’s platoon was ambushed and after being seriously injured, he regained consciousness. Disoriented and unable to move, he soon realized that he was covered in the blood of his fellow soldiers, none of whom survived the attack. Despite many referrals from his commanding officers for psychiatric evaluation, he remained in combat for seven more months.
Eventually, Herbert succumbed to the stress of such trauma and experienced a complete breakdown mentally. “Crying outbursts”, “incommunicative withdrawal” and attempted suicide resulted in an honorable discharge in December 1966. Herbert went on to suffer headaches, nightmares and flashbacks. A veteran’s hospital in New York City allowed him a slow and difficult recovery.
While in the hospital, Herbert fell in love with a nurse he’d met. After a brief, intimate relationship, she noticed that Herbert’s obsession with her was unhealthy and tried to end the relationship. Herbert resisted and she finally had to insist that he stayed away.
Herbert, however, deluded by his obsession, was convinced that he could win back her love. In his mind, he would concoct a scenario in which she would become a damsel in distress and he would come to her rescue as her knight in shining armor. His plan: to set off a bomb on her front porch and run to her aid to show that he would be there to protect her.
Herbert watched in horror from across the street when two little girls from the neighborhood, girls who’d eaten breakfast at his home, became curious as to the mysterious package on the porch with a clock on it. When the 10-year-old girl picked it up and shook it, she was instantly killed by the blast and her 12-year-old friend traumatized.
From the outset, Herbert’s plan was reckless, irrational, and tragically misguided. The prosecutor, seeking the death penalty, told an all-white jury in his closing argument that Herbert was “associated with black Muslims from New York City” and deserved no mercy- a claim that was not supported by any proof of evidence.
Alabama’s Capital Statute required that any murder eligible for the death penalty be intentional. However, the prosecutor evoked an unprecedented theory of “transferred intent” to sidestep the law. Herbert’s appointed defense attorney, who would later be disbarred for poor performance in other cases, neither during trial nor before sentencing, presented any evidence about Herbert’s background, his military service, his trauma from the war, his relationship to the victims, his obsession with his girlfriend – nothing.
Although he’d never intended to kill anyone, Herbert was sentenced to death and would go on to be executed by the state of Alabama.
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By the mid-1980’s, nearly 20% of the people in jails and prisons in the US had served in the military. While the rate declined in the 90’s as a result of the Vietnam War winding down, the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused these numbers to rise again. Many combat veterans have and continue to share their stories of horror in these war-torn countries along with their battles to regain their mental health after returning home. Thousands of these soldiers, after bringing the traumas of war back to their communities, end up in our criminal justice systems, oftentimes due to a lack of war and post-war mental health care. Once incarcerated, they continue to go untreated for the trauma they’ve experienced. Our justice system has failed combat veterans who are incarcerated. In fact, some are even treated more harshly during sentencing as some judges have used their service to our country as an aggravating as opposed to mitigating factor. They are worthy of more. Despite their crime, they are worthy of compassion.
These are the same men and women who’ve actually lived some of the most horrific scenes that we’ve only watched on television in the comfort of our homes. They, despite their crime, are the very reason that we are able to enjoy the many freedoms we have. For these incarcerated men and women, there should be mental health and drug treatment programs available as well as sentence-credits for the completion of each program.
It was not until 1980, following the traumas of the Vietnam War, that the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIII) recognized PTSD formally as a medical disorder. It was also found that combat exposure increases the risk of PTSD by three-fold compared to non-deployed troops. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, “People exposed to war-related trauma were at high risk of having PTSD Symptoms a decade later if no treatment was initiated.”
Regardless of their crimes, people who have been exposed to such levels of trauma as a result of fighting for our country, require attentive treatment. What a way, through this kind of incentivized program, to help pull these veterans, many of whom have become withdrawn and detached, from the shadows of their prison cells and encourage them to get the treatment that they so need.
The focus of the treatment programs will target symptoms of trauma which include flashbacks, where it seems as if traumatic experiences are happening again; nightmares, which are common and repetitive; distressing images and other sensory impressions, which can intrude during any time of the day; hypervigilance for threat; exaggerated startled responses; irritability or difficulty experiencing emotions… just to name a few. While naming these symptoms, I am reminded of an old cellie of mine at Menard Correctional Center. His name is Earnest Hubbard. He is an Iraq combat veteran.
Addressing these symptoms through the Veterans-Time-Credit-Treatment Programs will go a long way in reducing prolonged distress as a result of trauma experienced as well as the added stress of prison. It will also make prison a more safe environment, and more importantly, help to achieve better public safety as the veterans, most of whom will one day re-integrate back into society, will have worked, through their treatments, on how to contend with the difficulties resulting from past trauma and act to overcome them.
The VTCT program is an excellent addition to HB24601. Let’s get it done!
~ Written by Michael Simmons
Mike was incarcerated at age 24, and his release is set for 2052 at age 74.
The story about Herbert Richardson is courtesy of “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.