April 7, 1987, April 21, 1987
San Quentin inmates who are Vietnam Veterans held a meeting in the Chapel Annex with the objective of forming and establishing a Vietnam Veterans Group at San Quentin.
The meeting of April 7, 1987 was attended by 15 Vietnam Veterans and on a temporary basis a Chairman, James White and Vice Chairman, Geronimo Pratt, were elected to chair the group until formal approval by the administration could be obtained.
Also attending the meeting, as sponsors, were: staff members, S. Cambra, Associate Warden, Lee Bradley, correctional Counselor I, and Lieutenant McMullen.
On April 21, 1987, the Vietnam Veterans Group held another meeting in the Chapel Annex at which time it was agreed by those present, the name of the group would be, "Vietnam Veterans Group of San Quentin", (VVGSQ).
One of the questions brought up at this meeting was whether veterans of other wars would be allowed to be members of the Vietnam Veterans Group. After much discussion it was decided that the tules of the Veterans of Foreign Wars would be followed in accepting members of other wars/conflicts into the VVGSQ.
Attending the meeting as sponsors were: Mr. Jim Rodgers, CCI, D.A Nix, Lieutenant, and Mr. Jeppeson, Coach. It was agreed that a number of sponsors were needed in addition to those attending the meeting.
A package of the constitution and by-laws were submitted to the administration for approval.
Also in 1987
The First Annual Walk-A-Thon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association with over 350 miles run and/or walked raising approximately $5,000 for Jerry's kids. The VVGSQ received a Citation of Merit from MDA for these efforts.
Elections were held and Nate Hardy was voted in as Chairman, "Doc" Dowler - Vice-Chairman, J. "Chief" Houlne - Secretary/Treasurer, J. "Sneaky" White - Outside Group Coordinator, Ralph Coleman - Media Committee Chairman, "Geronmimo" ji Jaga (Pratt) - Member at Large. The Chief Sponsor is Steve Cambra.
Mr. Ernie Payne, a national service officer in California, with the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter #247, came on board with the VVGSQ. Mr. Payne said he discovered an incarcerated veteran he was working with, had earned a Bronze Star, but had never received it. Payne set about obtaining the medal for him. In addition, at that time, the VVGSQ was awarded a charter with the VVA, Chapter #247 of which Ernie Payne was the president.
Also in 1988
Members of the veteran's group became involved with the annual Christmas Photo program, Toy Giveaway program and See's Cnandy Sale. Toy donations were requested from various agencies and stores in the bay area. The Auxiliary Fireman's Association donates thousands of dollars worth of toys for this program as well as many local businesses. Some donated cash to purchase candy for the children. The VVGSQ also purchased a professional Santa Suit and inmates dress for the occasion and pass out toys to the children of incarcerated men. This occurs annually in the San Quentin Visiting Room. It is a huge success, and welcomed by all.
The V.V.G.S.Q. sponsored Mr. Bob Weiland, the Vietnam Veteran that walked across America on his hands to visit San Quentin prisoners on several occasions.
The V.V.G.S.Q. brought Mr. Aldo Ray, the great Hollywood actor, to San Quentin to talk to the inmates.
The mile stone for this group was the adoption of "Spooky" (the ghost), as the group's crest. On April 5, 1989, Manual Lara, a member of the VVGSQ, who had been a member of the 4th Infantry Division, suggested the 'Ghost' as a group crest which represented the ghosts left behind in Vietnam. "Spooky" is the outline of the map of Vietnam, and the ghost on the side of the specter gunships.
The first annual scholarship award banquet took place. Thie scholarship was established to award a child of a veteran a one-time stipend/scholarship for college. An announcement was sent to all high schools in the bay area asking interested siblings of veteran's to submit an essay answering the question, "How did your parents military service imipact your life?" A committee was established to read these essays and pick a winner. The winner, Mary J. Richards was invited to the annual scholarship banquet where this stipend was awarded. This has continued on an annual basis.
Elections took place and James Houline was elected as the new Chairman.
July 4, 1989
The Second Annual Walkathon took place to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy research.
The next mile stone to occur for the VVGSQ was a donation to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. To raise money for this occasion, a Walk-A-Thon was held on the San Quentin exercise yard where cash donations and pledges were taken from staff and inmates.
The next major event for the VVGSQ was raising funds to support the Vietnam Veterans Women's Memorial.
The group raised money for a donation to the Hooked on Phonics Program.
The focus of donations was for Child Abuse Programs. In September of 1995, more funds were raised and donated to the Vietnan Veterans Womens's Memorial.
The VVGSQ made some changes in the structure for membership by requiring all members be honorably discharged, or discharged under honorable conditions, as a prerequisite for membership in the group. This was done so outside agencies would provide services to group members.
Money was raised and donated to the American Cancer Society, and in support of the annual Christmas Toy Giveaway Program.
Another milestone was marked with the beginning of the Veterans Issues Group. Following a seminar held at San Quentin attended by the Veterans Administration, the North Bay Veterans Center, and members of the VVGSQ, a new program was brought on line. This program was designed to assist inmates with issues derived from military service and incarceration. This program is in place today.
Also in 1998
The VVGSQ became involved with the National Incarcerated Veterans Network (NIVN). The group participated in a national survey that resulted in a special report prepared by the Bureau of Justice, Statistics Division titled "Veterans in Prison of Jail". The group continues to network through the NIVN with 33 veteran's groups in 50 states across the nation.
The VVGSQ began to have a series of articles published in a number of military publications concerning the plight of the incarcerated veteran. These articles focused on outreach the VVGSQ has extended to the community. These articles continue today.
The VVGSQ received a charter from the Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. (VVnW) receiving Charter #CAI-01, thus becoming the first incarcerated chapter of this national organization in the state of California. The groups primary goal with this organization is to open a Beacon House for paroling members of the VVGSQ. Because of the charter, the VVGSQ is eligible to operate as a non-profit organization under the umbrella of the VVnW. This occurred as a result of a proposal titled "Operation 72 Hours". Seventy-Two hours is the most critical period for a veteran recently paroled from prison. The objective of this program is to provide services such as housing, transportation, food, and medical care.
San Quentin received a memorandum from the Director of Institutions Division. This memorandum directed each institution to establish avenues to encourage the availability of an array of benefits to eligible inmates and paroles who have served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. The Warden of San Quentin directed the formation of the Veterans Information Project (VIP).
The VVGSQ's Executive Body met and agreed on the formation of a program called "Camaraderie Night". Camaraderie night has a multi-purpose goal of bringing the mem of the group together socially to view military related films that spur discussion and promote healing. This program also continues to this day on a by-monthly basis.
The group held a special fund raising event with the goal to donate the total proceeds to the 9-11 American Red Cross relief fund. The Administration was challenged to match all funds donated by inmates. The inmates won by a large margin.
The annual scholarship was awarded and the group continued developing veteran related programs, including the Christmas Toy Giveaway program. This group also donated some handcrafted items made in the hobby shop to be raffled off at a National Military Convention. The proceeds were then forwarded to appropriate organizations to be used for the Food Locker Program established on active military bases for the dependents of solders deployed.
The VVGSQ became aware of a program titled, 'Stamps for Soldiers'. This organization collects cancelled stamps from around the world that are still attached to the original envelope. Hospitalized disabled military war Veterans peel off stamps collected as a form of physical therapy. With these stamps, they will be able to make collages and other artistic creations. This process takes place as therapy to re-develop their hand-eye coordination. The VVGSQ collect stamps for forwarding to this organization.
The San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, (SFVAMC), held the first ever prison stand-down at San Quentin. All Veterans who attended were afforded the opportunity to fill out 1010EZ forms and be enrolled in the VA Health Care system.
The group focus was to donate to the Marin Abused Women's Services, and the San Quentin Bike Program. The bike program, run by interested inmates, refurbishes donated bikes to be given to various non-profit organizations during the holidays.
Additionally in 2003
A few concerned group members became Team 'C' of the R.E.A.L. Choices program. This program mentors to at-risk youth. These Choices members went through an extensive screening and training process and were subsequently awarded certificates certifying them as counselors. This counselor training consisted of a series of workshops to include Juvenile Suicide, Adolescent Behavior, Advanced Parenting, Substance Abuse, and Anger Management.
Early in 2004
A letter was sent to State Senator Gloria Romeo asking her to come to San Quentin State Prison to see the good work the VVGSQ was being allowd to do in the prison. This letter sparked an interest with the Senator. This lead to a Senate Select Committee title, "VETERANS IN CORRECTIONS: SERVED THE COUNTRY; SERVING TIME". The VVGSQ worked diligently to present evidence at this hearing. William P. Waltz, testified at the hearing for the Veterans incarcerated and the VVGSQ. This hearing was the reason that J.S. Woodford, Director of Corrections, sent a MEMORANDUM to the Regional Administrators-Institutions Divisions and Wardens. This memorandum requires all wardens to contact her office by March 31, 2005 letting her know what each prison is doing in their facility, and how many Veteran are in their custody.
Again in 2004
The group donated more handcrafted items made in the hobby shop to the Food Locker Program that auctioned then off to support the families of deployed solders.
Operation: MOM came to San Quentin and gave a presentation on their program which entails sending care packags to troops deployed around the world. The vets group gave a donation in support of this valuable program. In May of 2004, the VVGSQ, in conjunction with Operation: MOM packed over 400 packages to be sent to troops deployed. These packages also contained special hand written notes of encouragement to the troops. Initial comments from Operation: MOM indicated that the troops loved the notes of encouragement as much as the items.
After a successful scholarship banquet, the group elected to establish another stipend titled, "Mary Manley Inspirational Award". This award is to acknowledge that some of the essays for the scholarship program are so good that it dictated another award to be established. This award is now called the Mary Manley Inspirational Award in recognition of the first recipient. Additionally in June of 2004, the group became members of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Charter #563, the Sonoma Mountain Chapter, thus renewing the relationship with the VVA.
The administration initiated a program to assist three local school districts with their Arts & Sports Program. This was accomplished by presenting the "Save The Children Walk-A-Thon". The VVGSQ sponsored this event by donating all the meals awarded to participants. This again showed the groups commitment to supporting the outside community.
The group elected to support the Marine Corps Marathon by sponsoring one runner, Ms. Laura E. Bowman. Ms. Bowman represented the TAPS program, which stands for "Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors".
The VVGSQ again presented the Annual Christmas Toy Program for the benefit of all children of incarcerated inmates. With the Warden's approval, the VVGSQ has assumed all responsibilities for the opperation and continued success of this beneficial program. This program which brings a little bit of normalcy to the lives of the families, would not be possible without the help from Warden Jill L. Brown, and her administration. It was the VVGSQ's pleasure to be able to provide a little touch of Christmas to the 286 children that visited the prison for the 2004 Christmas Toy Program. The Toy Program was blessed enough to be able to donate the extra toys to three outside organizations in the local community.