National Veterans Foundation President & Founder Shad Meshad has been working for decades on a pardon case here in California, the 44-year imprisonment of James “Sneaky” White, one of the most decorated chopper pilots of the Vietnam War.
The Jewish News of Northern California recently published a terrific and thorough article on James White and his incredible contributions to society since his incarceration.
James is a 73‐year‐old Veteran of three tours in Vietnam, 1967 and 1968 with the US Marine Corps and from 1969 thru 1971 with the US Army. During his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first time an enlisted Marine had received one since World War II.
White is nearly 80, a highly decorated Jewish Vietnam vet, and the person credited with establishing a college education program at Ironwood State Prison, allowing inmates to work toward an associate’s degree while behind bars. Some 1,500 Ironwood prisoners have graduated from the program since its start in 2001, a personal achievement that many of them never thought possible.
White has achieved the respect and admiration of his fellow veterans and correction officers through his good works:
“In my 22 years in the Department of Corrections, I’ve never seen such a beneficial program as this one,” said Bill Hobbs, a correctional counselor who worked closely with White in launching the college program and other initiatives benefiting the incarcerated at the Riverside County facility. Hobbs recalled happy parents and grandparents of the inmates attending graduation ceremonies, thrilled about their son or grandson being the first in the family to get a college degree.
With all his great work, White has also received a good amount of media attention, including coverage by the San Diego Tribune, NPR’s Marketplace, and Tedx Talks:
In a 2014 TEDx talk, White spoke to the Ironwood program’s early success, reporting that of the 53 inmates enrolled the first year, all but one had graduated and very few had returned to prison a decade later. Statewide, the overall recidivism rate is as high as 65 percent, according to a study by Princeton University.
There’s no doubt in the minds of anyone who has spent time with White that he’s paid for his crime, has become rehabilitated, and poses no threat to society:
“I took a life and it’s affected me ever since, so I’m not going to watch someone else lose their life if I can help it,” White said.
NVF’s Shad Meshad on the effort to get a pardon for White:
“I’ve been on this case for almost 40 years and I am still holding out hope,” said Floyd “Shad” Meshad, a fellow Vietnam vet and founder of the Los Angeles-based National Veterans Foundation, who met White when he spoke to a group of veterans in prison and has been advocating for his release ever since. “This one baffles me more than any other. Here’s a guy who has put education in the largest prison system in the country and raised $350,000 for charity from prison, but [he is] locked up for life.”
One of Whites advocates puts the question of his pardon best:
“For me, the question is not should he be released, it’s how can it be justified that he’s still inside?” asked Kessler, a Chabad rabbi and former prison chaplain who got to know White at Ironwood.
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