Post Date: November 9, 2016
By Andrea Strong, Member Services Director with FAMM
Today, as we all honor our country’s military veterans for their service, I will be thinking of my friend Bruce Harrison, a former corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. Bruce served his country honorably during the Vietnam War, earning many distinctions, including two Purple Hearts.
Unfortunately, I won’t get to thank Bruce in person for his service today—in addition to being one of this country’s 21 million military veterans, he is also one of the 2.2 million people in America’s prisons and jails. Bruce has been incarcerated since 1994 for a drug offense; he was sentenced to nearly 50 years in prison. The sentence handed down was so harsh that members of his jury wrote letters of protest to the local paper, outraged that their guilty verdict triggered what is essentially a life sentence.
Although faced with the prospect of never seeing the outside of a prison again, Bruce has taken on self-improvement with the same determination and drive that got him those Purple Hearts—he’s taken every class offered at his prison at least three times, and he helps new inmates adjust to life behind bars. Despite his long sentence, he refuses to stop learning and growing. Bruce doesn’t claim to have been a saint when he was on the outside, but he’s a different person now than he was 20 years ago, as most of us are. His pride and joy are his grandchildren; at 62 years old, and facing serious health issues, he wants nothing more than to spend time with them.
In a compassionate world, this man would not be less than halfway through a sentence for a drug offense that happened 20 years ago; he would’ve done his time, paid his debt to society, and be released to his network of supportive family and friends. Everyone serving a harsh, over-long sentence deserves compassion and mercy, but nothing shows the failure of the war on drugs, and just how backward this country’s system of punishment is, quite like seeing someone who bravely served this country locked away for decades.
Bruce is seeking clemency and I hope and pray that he won’t spend the rest of his life in prison. Today, and every day, I hope you’ll take the time to think of the many men and woman who fought for our freedom, but no longer have theirs.
“Planning For Your Release: A Guide for Incarcerated Veterans,” from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV)
If you aren’t able to download, you can request a copy by sending a letter to:
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
333 1/2 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20003-1148
You can call toll-free at 1-800-VET-HELP.
NCHV has a comprehensive list of resources for returning veterans, including information about state assistance and healthcare.
To publicly honor your loved one who has served in the United States military or to make a donation in their name, please click here.
Please feel free to share FAMM’s ‘Veterans in Prison’ infographic by using this link.