Filled with hope, joy, and increased respect for the vision of rehabilitation and restoration that permeates every fiber of Allendale Correctional Institution, I slowly walked to my car, pondering the incredibly, moving event I had just been part of. As I turned back to look at this amazing place, I couldn’t help but wonder…
Where are the reporters, the local news vans, the TV cameras, the crowds? Where are the citizens gawking in order to get a glimpse of this ground-breaking news? Who would dare to stand up and tell another side when it comes to the inside of one of our correctional institutions? Who would dare to balance the truth by reporting stories of restoration instead of riots, stories of character development instead of crowd control, and stories of transformation instead of terror?
Who would dare to stand up and tell this inside story?
What would cause men and women from all walks of life, social status, religious beliefs and ideals, to gather in a room together in unity of purpose? What would give Senators, Judges, Wardens, Corrections Directors, Staff, and Volunteers the desire to engage in a Veteran’s Day Recognition Program directed at honoring resident veterans? What could possibly be the driving force behind such unprecedented tearing down of divisional walls?
To witness the rehabilitation and restoration successes of Allendale Correctional Institution
Allendale Correctional Institution is a place where all men are valued and given the opportunity to be transformed through rehabilitation and restoration. The visitation room where this event was to be held is no exception to the power of Allendale’s life-changing atmosphere. Where separation, loss, and pain once dominated, acceptance, honor and dignity would now prevail.
Booths showcasing the current character development programs offered at Allendale were lined up with residents eager to share information concerning the life-enhancing qualities of each program. Men, with self-respect and pride greeted interested parties with a joyful demeanor that could only come from the inner transformation offered them by Allendale’s tenacity to never give up while pursuing its vision for rehabilitation and restoration. Red, white, and blue tastefully welcomed honored guests, staff, and volunteers into a room filled with transformed lives that give Allendale’s character-building programs astounding credibility.
Rescued canines walked beside their resident trainers with obedience that I could only wish my own canines possessed! Quilting, Pottery, Crocheting, Spiritual Enhancement, and various other character development initiatives were proudly displayed at their respective booths. Invisible walls of separation crumbled as honored guests mingled with resident inmates and veterans. Mutual respect rose as the walls crumbled, changing the atmosphere, and something much greater than ourselves captivated me…
The excellence and power behind Allendale’s character rehabilitation and restoration success.
With articulate precision, Allendale’s Veteran Day Recognition brought dignity and honor to every resident veteran. It was evident that each detail was masterfully woven together in order to create a tapestry of patriotic reflection unlike any other. From flags lining each side of the walkway leading to the visitation area, to red-poppies that were given to each resident veteran at its conclusion, this ceremony was, by far, the most moving I have ever encountered.
They filed in one by one, each branch of our military, with its song proudly announcing their arrival, until all 111 resident veterans took their places of honor in rows to my left. Warm tears of gratefulness threatened to spill as I watched, and, I wondered secretly, what each man had endured to protect my freedom.
The jovial atmosphere of just a few minutes ago was swallowed up in somber respect of the moment. Presentation of the flags was followed by an unbelievably, beautiful rendition of the National Anthem that caused every patriotic nerve in my body to stand at attention. I could see the rockets red glare…feel the bombs bursting in air…experience the victory and pride that our flag was still there. Again, warm tears threatened…there are truly many gifted vocalists in this place.
A poet of precise prose took the podium and read with solemn reflection, a detailed description of the trauma inflicted on our soldiers in Viet Nam. All eyes were on him, all ears heard the heart-wrenching truths of what we know to be true, but somehow want to reject. It was gut-wrenching, honest, and raw. I could barely look at him. I did not have to secretly wonder what any of these men in our midst had to endure for my freedom.
Again, I ask…Who would dare to stand up and tell this inside story?
As we learned of wars, victories, and defeats in our national history from our honored speaker, I wondered how many fallen soldiers were still among us. They have not passed on, but continue to fight a never-ending war of mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma resulting from their service on our behalf. I was humbled, and somehow, at that moment, I recognized the obligation of those of us who have the means and influence in society to become the catalyst for healing and transformation in their lives.
hen I thought of the men outside in the yard that were not with us. What are their stories? What mental, emotional, and spiritual battles are they fighting on a daily basis? What is the answer to this seemingly impossible charge of our correctional system to release men and women back into society equipped with the ability to be able to survive? Are we collectively a system that has the healing of trauma, restoration of character, and resources for success at the core of everything we do in corrections?
As I experienced first-hand the positive impact the restorative vision of Allendale Correctional Institution has had on its residents,and what transpired at this Veteran’s Day Recognition, I am convinced that this facility is leading the way for us to become a collective system of restorative responses to crime and corrections.
What could possibly be more transforming to a man than to be publicly honored in his place of dishonor by representatives of the system that placed him there? What positive, character-building effect did the Honorable James E. Lockemy, Chief Judge, S.C. Department of Appeals have on Allendale’s resident veterans as he was found on his knees in front of them describing war heroes, including them in the ranks, and thanking them for their service? What sense of community, honor, and acceptance was received as resident veterans were handed red poppies in honor of their service, and given permission by Bryan Stirling, Director of S.C. Department of Corrections to proudly wear them on their SCDC uniforms until Veterans’Day was over?
What memories did each one of the 111 Allendale resident veterans reflect upon during the playing of taps? What would we learn if each story were to be told? Who would dare to ask?
We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies. (Moina Michael, 1915)
It is with grateful reflection on this amazing event, I thank you, Allendale, for paving the way for change in the way we approach corrections, and transforming your atmosphere from one of dishonor into one of honor…
…Perhaps in his closing statements, Senator Lindsey Graham said it best…there’s a story in here that needs to be told…
Chaplain Lynn Potter
Potter’s Heart Ministry
I pray that each of the 111 residents, veterans, honored guests, staff, and volunteers will have positive memories of this day, and realize with strong conviction that freedom is never free.