January 5, 2015
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To view the story online, visit: http://pensacolatoday.com/2015/01/veterans-dorm-gives-inmates-fighting-chance-change/
For the video, visit: http://pensacolatoday.com/2015/01/military-service-gives-vets-common-ground-prison/
Brian Robinson is trained to fight for his country. A soldier in the U.S. Army, he served two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan…
The 29-year-old veteran staff sergeant now faces a different kind of fight — the uphill climb to rebuild his life after he serves time as a sex offender.
The 29-year-old is originally from Pace and the prison not only is close to home, but also offers a unique program for inmates like himself — the Veterans Dorm.
The Veterans Dorm re-entry program was established in November of 2011 to help inmates with verified military service successfully transition back into the community and reduce recidivism.
There are more than 6,500 self-reported veterans in Florida’s prison system. The Santa Rosa Correctional Institution is one of five state prisons selected to run the specialized program for men. There’s one for women in the Ocala area.
“We want to get them back to their families, back to being productive in our community,” says Warden Richard Comerford. “It benefits all of us, not only them, but also our taxpayers, me and you, our families and the future of our communities.”
Robert Koroly, 35, a former helicopter pilot for the U.S. Navy, is grateful for the opportunity to participate. …
“I spent two years in the general population and the biggest thing here in the Veterans Dorm is the atmosphere,” Koroly says. “It’s people who have come together voluntarily, who want to make changes in their life.”
The entire dorm is painted with murals, mottos, and insignias representing every branch of military service. The artwork was done by the first inmates to participate in the Veterans Dorm Program.
The re-entry program is specifically tailored to their military background, capitalizing on their common service and mistakes to prepare them for a successful life on the outside.
The inmates are also offered classes to help with everything from education and career training to managing family, finances, and mental health issues. They also learn what services and programs are available for vets.
Corrections Officer Cindy Thompson started working in the dorm a year and a half ago.
“Some people, when they get out and walk out of these gates, they have nothing but what they have on their backs,” Thompson says. “We give them a chance. There are people on the outside who want to help and it gives them the chance not to come back. It gives them the opportunity to get out and be a productive part of the community.”
The Florida Department of Corrections made re-entry the centerpiece of its 2013-2016 Strategic Plan with the goal of enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism. Programs like the Veterans Dorm do just that…
The DOC reports Florida’s recidivism rate has dropped more than 26 percent…Comerford says the more they can help inmates succeed, the better off the entire community will be.
“Eventually it rolls back to a cost savings for our citizens as well,” Comerford says, “not to mention the safety and peace of mind.
“… We owe them that opportunity, once they’ve paid their debt to society, to successfully transition back.”
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 22,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.