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Veteran prisoners regaining honor

Veteran prisoners regaining honor
Posted at 10:23 PM, Mar 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 07:00:44-05

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - There are more than 1,200 inmates in Whetstone Unit at the Tucson state prison facility, many of them are military veterans.

The Arizona Department of Corrections recently created a program for veteran prisoners called Regaining Honor. 

"We're veterans first and foremost, yes we are felons and stuff like that, but we're veterans. Our code and our honor come first," said Tanner Sanders, a Navy veteran and an inmate.

There are 113 veterans in the program. All of them must be minimum security, within two years of release, and previously received an honorable, general, or medical discharge from a branch of the military.

All of the veterans live in their own housing unit - 2B. They say it is very different from the general population.

Tye Casson is a Navy veteran but has 10-year sentence. He lived in 2B before it was changed into a veteran-only unit.

"Violence, dealing drugs, behaviors that got us here in the first place," he said.

Now, 2B is different. The veterans have military flags flying and and are painting murals on the walls for each branch.

"There is not any of that stuff, there is no looking over your shoulder, there is no worry, I am safe now," said Casson.

The veterans essentially police themselves, keeping the unit in order. Staff at the prison say they have fewer problems with the vets in Regaining Honor.

Sanders says, "it's unique in ways that I'm surrounded by my brothers in arms."

He added that he and other veterans often take other inmates from the general population under their wing, hoping to show them a better path in prison.

"We revert back to our military ways, the way we were brought up in the military, we are taking that and incorporating that into the younger population," said Sanders.

Veterans in the program have certain classes they can take that help with reentry into society like Release and Reintegration, Money Management, Criminal and Addictive Thinking, or Socialization.

Emanuel Whiteside, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army, says he has learned a lot in the program.

"I know it will help me when I leave," he said. "I just want to get something out of this program that is beneficial that I can share with other people so they don't go through what I went through."

On Wednesday, the Whetstone Unit held its first annual Resource Fair for veterans in the Regaining Honor program. Organizations like Veteran's Services, Pima Community College, and Primavera spoke to inmates about helping them after release.

Some inmates say they fear going homeless or failing to get a job after release, but this could help.

"They are helping us get all of our stuff in order so we can get out and hit the streets running," said Sanders.

Deputy Warden at the Tucson facility, Dionne Martinez, says they have worked hard to put this program together. Now it is up to the veterans to make it grow.

"We are building the foundation and it's up to them to figure out what direction we go in," said Martinez.

If Regaining Honor is successful the Department of Corrections has said they will expand. Currently it is only in the Tucson facility. ADC says they generally house between 2,600 and 2,700 veteran inmates throughout the state. They say there are more than 260 minimum custody inmates who are within two years of patrol that could also be eligible for Regaining Honor.