A New Kind of Outreach: NVF Founder at Ironwood State Prison

Late in April, Shad Meshad returned to Ironwood State Prison at the request of James “Sneaky” White, a decorated Marine combat veteran. The two met at Tehachapi Prison in 1978 when Meshad spoke to a group of incarcerated veterans.  Ironwood_Shad2White went on to establish ongoing veterans groups wherever he was transferred in the system. In addition to raising over $350,000 for veterans and the communities around the prisons, James White has set up certification programs to educate incarcerated vets and help them find employment on the outside.

Not many incarcerated vets are aware that they are still eligible for some VA benefits.  Those benefits are greatly reduced, but can still make a difference to families.  NVF President Shad Meshad’s blog on Huffington Post publicized two incarcerated vets at Soledad Prison who’ve established a Veterans Services Office within the prison.  They now serve vets in other prisons and in other states, guiding vets through the claims process. Many of these vets are serving either long sentences or life without parole.  Creating an opportunity for them to have some agency over their own lives can be transformative.

The purpose of Meshad’s April visit to Ironwood was to talk about his own history as a vet and veteran advocate, and to introduce the National Veterans Foundation to them, but things took a slightly different tack as Meshad visited each of four yards, talking to vets. Depending on the yard, he had about 90 minutes. The first 15 he used to introduce himself and the NVF, then he interacted with the inmates.  Ironwood_Prison_Shad1You need to be working now to prepare…get some counseling. Use the education plans James White has set up. Get as many certificates as you can so you have some kind of training when you get out. The prison system is trying to release prisoners….you may find your sentence is cut..your parole hearing soon.  What are you going to say to the panel?  You need to be able to tell them where you’ll go. What are you gonna do with the $200 they release you with? Play like you’re going on your parole hearing in two weeks.

Meshad said, “I wanted to direct them to the things they can do to give them a shot when they get out. My message emphasized that they use their time here, not just serve time.” After his talk about half of the vets came up and hugged Shad.

“This one-on-one, vet-to-vet way of working is the same model I set up in the Vet Centers across the nation,” Meshad said. “It’s the one the NVF uses on our Lifeline for Vets. Our prison outreach is just a new way to use it. And now in our office, counselors are already responding to letters from Ironwood.”

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