EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - A peer support group works inside the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center to help veterans get on the right path.
Roughly 1,800 inmates are currently incarcerated at the jail, with about 10 percent being veterans. (About 40 percent of El Paso County residents are active duty military members or veterans.) Some veterans are in for DUIs, drug abuse, assault, or violating a restraining order, but a competitive program inside the jail is hoping to get them back on the right path.
"I had issues with drug use," Lance Cpl. Lindsey Joelallen, a Marine Corps veteran, said. "Just bad choices, wrong people to hang out with."
After those bad choices, Joelallen ended up in Ward 3 Golf 1, also known as the veterans' ward at the El Paso County jail.
Things look a little different in the veterans' ward. Seventy of the 180 veterans have worked to get to the special area. They have a few benefits, like laundry facilities, a microwave, a library, and veteran-tailored programs. The deputies inside the ward are veterans as well.
All 70 inmates in the veterans' ward have earned that spot.
"There is the general respect you can relate to a degree," El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Stevens, who serves on the jail's incarcerated veterans oversight committee and is a U.S. Navy veteran, said. "Creating a ward like this is an opportunity for them to have pride in where they live, versus someone who is in general population."
"It's really common. A lot of guys will come back, and the last thing you want to do is say you have mental health issues," Cpl. Cory Selck, who also spent time in the ward, said. "I felt pretty lost when I got out of the military. I didn't have any purpose. I went from saving people in combat to coming out the military very abruptly with a DUI. It was rough."
Warriors First is a peer support group for veterans inside jail and out. The goal is to help those who fought for our freedom transition out of incarceration and get their freedom back.
The goal of the organization is to continue the comradery many of these veterans lost when they left the service. The group started in the jail, but when one of its alumni got out, he realized he and many others still sought that group support.
"Having some comfort knowing there is somewhere to go, someone to turn to," Joelallen said. "If one of us gets out here and starts committed a crime again, we failed."
Warriors First collects donations to provide transport to veterans and clothing go bags for those who just got out. The group meets every Saturday at 2 p.m. at Veterans Coffee Roasters. Tap here to learn more.