Remembering vets behind bars

I used to boast that they blew factory whistles on my birthday. It’s true, but it wasn’t because Doug Tjapkes had entered the world. November 11, in the olden days, was called Armistice Day. It marked the agreement signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany in France, ending the fighting. It took effect at eleven in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. 

And so, in the City of Muskegon, when I was a little kid, many of the town’s factory whistles blew at 11 AM on the 11th day of the 11th month. Imagine my pride, especially in 1947, when I was 11 years old! Armistice Day was a big deal back then! 

The name of the holiday changed in 1954 when President Eisenhower relabeled it Veteran’s Day. 

This Veteran’s Day, I’m asking that you expand your consideration and admiration to those veterans behind bars. We have more than 100,000 veterans serving time in our state and federal prisons. About 29,000 of these men were combat veterans. 

One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how and why some of these people end up behind bars. The risk factors include combat-related trauma and post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, substance abuse, adverse childhood experiences and sexual trauma while in the military. 

About half of incarcerated veterans have a mental health disorder, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

I have personally worked with some of the veteran groups in our Michigan prison system. In more than one instance, HFP supplied large quantities of yarn so that these men could knit and crochet items for homeless vets as well as patients in VA hospitals. They’re a dedicated group, and we’ve been pleased to help them and stand at their side over the years. 

Please keep all veterans behind bars in your thoughts and prayers this year. 

For this Veteran’s Day, 2022, I echo these sentiments, as expressed by Prison Fellowship: 

As we remember our nation's service members, let's also remember our nation's incarcerated veterans, who defended our country's freedom and are made in the image of God. They may deserve to be incarcerated, but they also deserve to be treated with dignity.


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