Today, we want to share a recent event, a look inside one of our fundraising partner relationships.
— Veterans’ Outreach Staff Invited to Have Lunch with Prisoners
At the NORTH EAST OHIO CORRECTIONAL CENTER
Veterans’ Outreach was contacted by a coordinator for Veterans Inmates from a local medium-security prison. They offered to do fundraisers for us to help vets on the outside, their service brothers and sisters! They were excited to be useful and find some purpose during their imprisonment there.
Those men have raised close to $10,000 to help local veterans over the last few years by selling food to inmates such as subs, pizza, chicken tenders, etc., foods that they can’t get while they in jail! After every event, they donate 51% of the funds raised to our MISSION.
We were invited to attend a luncheon on January 28, 2020 at the prison with 10 staff from Veterans’ Outreach. Now, keep in mind, we were going eat and sit with felons that were spending decades or life behind bars. Needless to say, we were a little nervous. We mulled over things like; What will I talk about? Will they be ornery? Will I have nightmares? Will I be in danger?
We entered through a sophisticated system of multiple gates, intercom, electric and barbed wire. One of our group forgot to leave his cell phone in the car. It happened to be our President and his trek back to the vehicle proved to be quite comedic. Being a large man and in a hurry, he made his way – being careful to avoid the goose droppings.
He opened the truck door and the key popped off of the keyring! It hit the running board and ricocheted under the truck. As he was reaching to retrieve the key, he tore a chunk of thumbnail off and drew blood. So with that, he still didn’t have the key so he started to yell for somebody to help with his dilemma.
The harder he reached, the muddier he got, practically laying down on the muddy parking lot. As he was nearing the point of passing out, his “volunteer of the year” showed up and saved his life. He retrieved the key without further ado! That bleeding thumbnail drove him and everyone else crazy throughout the visit.
The guards told us to remove our coats, hats, jewelry, belts, sweaters, lanyards, and finally our shoes. Then we all had to sign in and hand them our ID’s. One of our group forgot the lip balm in her pocket, lip balm is not allowed – people use those to smuggle in drugs. Another of our group forgot to empty his pocket of $100 dollars cash. The guard politely told him that no more than $20 is allowed – couldn’t even leave it at the desk with our ID’s. It was suggested that the cash could be divvied up among us, but nope, there was a $50 bill. So that plan got shot down and he had to make that trek back to the parking lot – only to realize that he rode with someone else and couldn’t remember just where they parked. Meanwhile, the President was really aggravated with that torn thumbnail and kept on asking for clippers and even a band-aid, but to no avail.
We waited for about thirty minutes in a tight circle wiggling our toes, at the dismay of some of the more sensitive staff! The guards had to “methodically” process the prisoners into the Luncheon Room. We had to be processed too. We got our visitor ID badges, then went through metal detectors, and each got a pat down with our hands on the wall above our heads and legs spread.
We then could enter the lunch room via another two step locked entrance. The lunch table was set-up in a U and the Staff sat on the inside while the inmates were situated on the outside, so as we could visit with all of them as we dined. We greeted all of the inmates and introduced ourselves with a handshake. We were received cordially. Our volunteer offered a blessing before the great meal. Inmates with plastic gloves, hats, and aprons served us food from Giant Eagle Catering and it was very good!
Our President gave a short speech (while holding his thumb) and gave a heartfelt thank you for the group’s efforts in helping with the charity’s Mission. The inmates opened up with their stories and how they ended up where they are today. Most accepted responsibility and were remorseful and eager to do better. That’s why they are involved with the Veterans’ group – to have purpose. We couldn’t relate to their struggles that became felonies, but we all do things we regret.
Purpose – that’s what they all seek. One inmate was a leader among them, and he spoke about some new programs, one is that they are hoping for is a recycling center on-site that would generate a large revenue. There was truly a sense of community for these men.
Sadly, the next fundraiser won’t be till July, as the Warden had to shut down programs as a result of violence erupting at the prison. A representative of the inmates promoted that the new incoming cell inductees were young and filled with bad attitudes and/or hostile testosterone! They’ve disrupted the positive flow of the older residents that took a while to get in place.
When anyone of those veterans do get released, they know where they can go to get immediate help with their reintegration into society. After three hours, it was time to go, the staff and inmates gathered together for a picture that a guard had difficulty taking, so don’t know if we’ll ever see it, but we left with all of us gathered together and shouted in unison:
“Thank you and God Bless”!