Correctional Center helps veterans with a criminal record adjust to civilian life
(CNN) — Chelsey Carlson called the police after she said her husband, Staff Sargent Robert Carlson, punched her in the face and fired gun shots at her from the upstairs window of their house.
He’s now in jail — serving eight years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. Before this incident in 2012, Carlson served 28 months in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan.
Carlson is not alone: As many as nine percent of recent retuning veterans have been arrested, according to a study by the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. CNN’s Jake Tapper was granted exclusive access to the Haynesville Correctional Center in Virginia, which houses a program geared specifically toward veteran support services.
Many veterans say they didn’t know about the resources provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to help make their transition back into civilian life easier. The program ay Haynesville is one of the first of its kind — and some veterans say it is providing them the guidance they didn’t receive during their time in the military.
“I got out blind, not knowing all that was out there, not knowing that the V.A. could assist with housing or medical or dental or anything like that,” Jimmy Jackson, who was honorably discharged from the marines, said. “I didn’t know any of that. I just got out and figured that was the end of my service.”
Jackson spent time in the facility because he forged checks after his military service concluded.
“I was struggling really bad,” he said. “I needed the money right then and there.”
The facility offers a series of services to help veterans help transfer the skills they obtained in the military, including a veterans’ benefit coordinator, anger management courses, job training and substance abuse counseling.
Drug and alcohol violations are chief among the common crimes for which the 75 veterans serve time in dormitory 5-A OF the correctional center. Archie Tyler, who served in the army in Afghanistan for five years, told CNN’s Tapper he took drugs to deal with “some of the sights and stuff I seen over there.”
“By us being here I actually kind of got back some of those military values,” he said. “Now I’m actually on the right track.”
Rasheedah Martin, a counselor at the facility, says the biggest challenge facing the group is post-traumatic stress disorder. Part of her job, she says, is reaching out to the community to let veterans know that their facility can help.
Veterans say these support services and peer workshops set their facility apart from the rest of the prison community. Some even called the facility a “brotherhood.”
“I got a college degree since I’ve been here and did really well,” Desert Storm veteran Donald Young said. “Guys tended to be supportive of that whereas before they were anywhere from indifferent to mocked it and would get in the way of it.”
The program is still too new to fully assess its success, but early numbers suggest that the rate of offenders who return to prison after spending time in the facility is lower than average.
But when it comes to fighting stigma about seeking mental health in the veteran community, there’s still a long way to go.
“Don’t be too proud to help. Help is out there,” Young said. “We laid down our lives for the country. There’s people who are willing to do the same for you, for your health and your betterment.”