As a combat veteran in prison, it can feel as if the war is still going. Nearly every day I see fights over simple issues. Though these could be easily solved without violence, both individuals usually end up bruised and bloody. For a war veteran, the faces seem to me no different than those I saw in military combat.
We paid great costs when we made the oath to protect this country and your freedoms. The continued hardships we suffer as a result are much harder to handle in prison.
A veteran must continually restrain himself because of the way he was trained to survive the rigors of combat. In prison, no one cares that you fought to protect their freedoms because no one in prison is free. The veteran has to continually be on guard — both physically and mentally. At any given moment, someone younger and less observant could walk up to you and start a fight. It takes tremendous courage to walk away from those instances, knowing that other prisoners will laugh and call you a coward.
Some veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are always on edge, constantly looking over their shoulder. The anxiety builds with every sound of war. Movies with combat scenes have an unsettling effect for those struggling with PTSD. In regular life, you can just turn the channel. We don’t have that luxury in prison. All we can do is walk away and plug our ears to try and muffle the disturbing sounds of combat.
Many of us have had family members die while we are incarcerated. Missing a funeral, or even the news of someone’s death, is fraught for any incarcerated person. Mailrooms grow silent as we lose the few people who were willing to write to us. But for veterans who have seen so much death already, the agony and anxiety is that much worse.
In the free world, many veterans die by suicide because they do not get what help they need from the country for which they fought. More veterans succumb to depression than those who have not seen the things we have seen. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Department Veterans Administration system is so overwhelmed with back-logged cases, it can take months or even years to be seen or treated for combat-related disorders.
Many veterans are in prison because they have been forgotten or ignored in the free world. And in prison, there is no outlet for PTSD nor comprehensive treatment. The prison simply gives you drugs and toss you away.
On this Veterans Day, please remember those who fought this country’s wars but have been forgotten behind bars. Our lives of sacrifice should be honored as much as those in the free world. That appreciation can go a long way to calm the storms in an incarcerated veteran’s mind.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.