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Prison Opens New Wing For Housing Veterans

A prison in Connecticut has a new wing dedicated to housing inmates who are also veterans. State officials held a dedication ceremony on Nov. 9, and said the wing will prepare them to re-enter society. It’s also designed to remind prisoners of their time in the military.

110 men live in this wing of the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield. They sleep in rows of bunk beds, and they wear identical tan jumpsuits. They’re all veterans from different branches of the military.

Inmate James Tatum was once an Air Force police officer. He’s been in prison three times since 2010 for burglary and drug charges. He came to this wing when it opened in October. He said he sees something he’s never seen before in prison: a sense of camaraderie.

“Right now, we on hard times, we know where we at, and it ain’t going to benefit us to go at each other in the dorm," he said. "It’s a bunch of guys, even though it’s different branches of the service, we josh, we have fun, it’s joking, you know. They call me busboy because I was in the Air Force, I call them jarhead because they’re Marine, but there’s no animosity in it.”

This is the first state prison wing in Connecticut specifically dedicated to veterans. Several other states have prison wings for veterans, including Pennsylvania and Virginia. John Terascio, the warden of Willard-Cybulski, said the idea is to replicate a military feel with an emphasis on discipline. Inmates have a color guard, and have to keep a clean and folded uniform at all times.

“We want them up and out of their bunks for reveille in the morning," he said. "We want them to have a sense of respect and structure for each other.”

Terascio said there are other benefits. Since veterans have moved into the new unit, they have more access to services from the VA and job placement programs. Tatum, the inmate, said those services make him feel more ready than ever for life after prison.

“It’s looking good. You know, I never had this outlook before leaving. I always wanted to just hurry up and get home," he said. "But I know where to go look for and find employments. Everything will be alright.”

He said he hopes to be released by the end of the year and to get a job as a truck driver.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.