ORANGE PARK – As a former military police officer for 35 years, including the Chief of Police at NAS-Jacksonville, and a deputy with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Gary Newman has put a lot of …
ORANGE PARK – As a former military police officer for 35 years, including the Chief of Police at NAS-Jacksonville, and a deputy with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Gary Newman has put a lot of people in jail, including fellow veterans.
While he doesn’t apologize for doing his job and protecting his community, the Vietnam veteran refuses to turn his back on a fellow soldier – even if they’ll never enjoy freedom again.
He spends a lot of his time inside correctional facilities working with veterans who’ve lost their ways. He helped develop a program to provide “throw away dogs” from the Safe Animal Shelter in Middleburg to inmates at the Union Correctional Institute. Now he’s on a mission to help facilities create veterans’ dorms with flagpoles.
“I’ve put a lot of people in jail. I don’t know what it is that draws me back to it,” he said. “The ones I deal with, especially some of the younger ones, I can change them. I can help them make the right choices, be part of the right peer group. It reduces the disciplinary problem in the prison system. I tell them: ‘Look your left, look to your right. You are all connected.’
“I’m a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America. I’m their first vice-president for the Florida State Council. Our motto is “Never again will one generation of veterans leave another behind.” The veterans who go into the prison system are totally forgotten. The veterans I work.”
Newman’s latest project was installing a new flagpole in front of the veterans’ dorm at the Madison County Correctional Institute. With help from the Vietnam Veteran’s Association and money from his own pocket, the project was completed.
“There is an importance of creating veterans’ dorms in the prison system,” Newman said. “One of the very first things these veterans want is a flagpole. Something where they can form up a military-style color guard to go out every morning, raise the flag and in the evening time, the color guard would go back out and retrieve the flag.”
Newman’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Orange Park resident was inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. He’s also served as an advisor to the incarcerated members of Chapter 1080 at the UCI.
He still reminds incarcerated veterans they have three things the penal system can never take away: the fact they’re Americans and veterans and their right to worship freely.
Newman said veterans need the structure of a military environment. It not only helps them pass the time; it gives them a greater purpose. To share that unique comradery with other veterans often is more beneficial than any prison-ordered program. Veterans learn to deal with PTSD and the other challenges of returning to civilian life. Despite being behind bars, he calls it “part of the healing process.”
Including the ones he put there.
Clay County also has specialized programs to help veterans. According to the county, the Veterans Treatment Court is a program designed to provide essential substance abuse treatment services, mental health treatment services, or both, to current and former military service members who have been arrested for a criminal offense, and in which a nexus between the offense or diagnoses and the veteran’s military service exists.
“The mission of Veterans Treatment Court is to provide an interagency, collaborative, non-adversarial treatment strategy for veteran defendants in the criminal justice system. Veterans Treatment Court strives to serve a target population of veteran defendants who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, other psychological conditions, sexual trauma, or substance abuse problems that are identified as service-related conditions and that manifested themselves while in active military service or after an honorable or general under honorable discharge. This program utilizes multiple interventions, including a collaborative approach to treatment and rehabilitation, drug/alcohol testing, regular court appearances and educational opportunities that are intended to provide the skills necessary to maintain a clean and sober lifestyle and to reconnect with families and community,” according to information posted on the county’s website.
Veterans Treatment Court will provide eligible veterans with the opportunity to receive specialized one-on-one veteran peer mentor support, assistance in gaining access to veteran healthcare and benefits from the US Department of Veteran Affairs, and community supervision, thus ensuring public safety and accountability.
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