I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
Incarcerated: 15 years
Housed: California Medical Facility, Vacaville
Anthony wishes to dedicate his work to the loving memory of his beloved wife, Mrs. Leticia Xochi Topete.
The Army lists its values as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I enlisted in 1986 during the Cold War and was deployed for a tour to Korea. Today, I’m serving a life term and am part of the Veterans Helping Veterans, an inmate group focused on building a brotherhood amongst us veterans to foster behaviors consistent with the values we learned while on active duty. During COVID I was elected to serve in the capacity of secretary as part of the executive body and I continue to serve with the Color Guard detail during institutional graduations and special events. The education department here under the direction of Ms. Bowman and the rest of the staff have been very supportive. I work as the principal’s clerk recognizing that while we may have made poor choices resulting in legal issues that have led to serious sanctions including incarceration. We are veterans who served our country and received an honorable discharge, seeking to use our skills to help others. Helping others makes a difference in our community. At our meetings we engage in indepth conversations shared with fellow veterans about both military as well as post-military experiences; these experiences are further illuminated by supporting each other with everything from applying for benefits to having your military training converted into college credit through the efforts of Ms. Vito, Ms. Clemens, and Ms. Bowman through the Joint Services Transcript program and we do this on a daily basis within these walls. These are opportunities for a process of healing, character building, and developing new attitudes and behaviors consistent with the values that we learned while on active duty. We find that service is an opportunity to learn how to forgive and be forgiven. When we start making restitution to people whom we have harmed, and we start giving back to other people, we improve our own spiritual life. I have come to realize through groups that spirituality is not mysterious. Rather, an opportunity to grow spirituality by practicing certain behaviors, such as helping others, especially helping fellow veterans, hence our name VETERANS HELPING VETERANS.
While continuing to serve our community of incarcerated veterans, as part of our mission, exploring connections between ourselves and the rest of the inmate population, in an effort to be of service as veterans and recover from post-traumatic distress many military veterans are seeking ways beyond conventional treatments to manage their stress injuries. An increasing number are turning to the VHV and building relationships with fellow incarcerated veterans. Many continue to benefit from medication and therapy but find that nothing can replace the sense of brotherhood we have found here which provides an additional measure of support, relief, and healing in our lives. Our group examines reciprocal interactions between veterans of all branches and service times as well as during post-conflict recovery with a focus on the experiences of our veterans who regard their personal recovery from stressful and traumatic military experiences as intimately tied to our carceral exposures.
By exploring the bonds of brotherhood experienced within the VHV, with safety, sense of purpose, and renewed relationships, this opportunity gives space to former soldiers’ stories and their individual realizations that their interconnections with other veterans provide alternative examples to their military training and combat exposure. The Veterans’ experiences within the group point towards an avenue of recovery that is little acknowledged in the mainstream, and as incarcerated veterans, we have shared life experiences that only we can relate to each other which are deserving of each other’s attention and respect. The overall commonality amongst our members and our varied branches and years of service has helped show many of us the way forward-the ways that life can continue beyond military experiences and incarceration. The veterans narratives in this space allows the former soldiers’ personal experiences to their embodied interconnections between those with alternative or similar military training and combat exposures. The rhythms of the outside world leave traces on each person’s story. Our brotherhood speaks through the veterans, and through our stories of experience we come to the realization that they not unique or few in number, as we enter into a relationship with one another and with the world around us and continue to program in order to promote a successful community reintegration of our veterans, upon release from prison. Let us never forget our; Warriors ethos.