A quiet but desperate battle has been raging in the local veteran world to stop an incarcerated Marine from being moved from Monroe Correctional Complex near Everett, Wash., back to the east side prison he was transferred from following a fight with a gang member months ago.
When Dan Brophy, chaplain for The Dalles Outpost of Point Man International Ministries, heard that the Washington Department of Corrections had decided to return Jonny, who onced lived here, to Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Wash., he sprang into action. Letters were written not only to WDOC officials, but the governor’s office and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.
I contacted Marines who had served with Jonny during a 2008 deployment to Iraq when he was only 17 (the year I adopted him) and a deployment to Afghanistan two years later. His former platoon leader took up the guidon and rallied CAAT Black Marines, who joined the letter-writing campaign.
They shared their recollections of deployment with Jonny, a decorated combat veteran. They reminded WDOC leaders that Jonny had served his country well and deserved treatment that would restore him.
“I believe his life will literally be at risk if he is moved back to Walla Walla,” I wrote in my letter to eight officials. “In addition to his mental chemical imbalance, Jonny has massive PTSD issues. His time at Walla Walla was spent on edge because the violence around him triggered his feelings of being unsafe and surrounded by the enemy.
“This is a dangerous place for a combat veteran to go because he has been trained to defend himself and to strike back at someone who threatens him.”
I added: “Jonny earned a medal for valor during a 36-hour firefight that ended with the Marines fixing bayonets in desperate times. He was a strong leader who saved lives by his courage under fire, and I continue to work toward his restoration. I believe in Jonny, please don’t give up on him.”
When a WDOC mental health professional called, she took the offensive and inferred that if I really cared about Jonny, I would have gone to see him at Monroe, which is nearly six hours away. I told her that Jonny had been in the hole (isolation) since he arrived earlier this year and I would only be able to see him for 45 minutes behind glass. When she replied that “it was still a visit,” I got mad.
Why was I being cast as the villian here? Jonny has been in prison for more than four years, and his mental state is still precarious enough to have landed him in the hole eight times. Twenty-three hours a day in a 6x8 cell is not getting the job done.
I have been making sure Jonny has reading materials, can call whenever he is let out of his cell and has plenty of mail. We agreed that my visit to Monroe (I made monthly trips to Walla Walla) would take place as soon as he was out of segregation, which was supposed to have been in June.
Bureaucrats can blow off the concerns of “outsiders” like myself because prisoners are not a sympathetic population group and they know the general public doesn’t care.
To add insult to injury, I received a letter from the WDOC, as did Brophy and others, with reassurance that “there is little to no gang activity” at Walla Walla. Really? They want to put that in print? The claim is ridiculous given that there is a history of violence at the maximum-security facility and those of us with loved ones inside get regular updates about “gladiator school.”
Look online for a report by the National Network for Safe Communities that states, “WSP, which has a large population of gang-involved inmates, has enacted a new strategy to deter and respond to assaults against staff, multi-man fights and assaults with weapons.” Although the new strategy, adopted several years ago, has allegedly reduced violence, WSP is still a dangerous place.
I am saving the WDOC letter for the day I might need to dig it out and read it on TV. If something happens to Jonny inside due to gang violence, which is our fear, their propaganda will be used against them.
America incarcerates more people than anywhere in the world, and our system is an epic failure from a humanitarian standpoint as well as that of public safety. We have 2.3 million people behind bars, and 90-95 percent of them will get out. Within five years, 76 percent will be back behind bars for another felony offense.
We need to hold people accountable for the harm they do, but this is not working, and our prisons have become a national shame.
Jonny is behind the wall for seven more years, and the only time I have been more worried was when he went to war. But then, he is really still there.