Hassan Latif, who runs a support center for former inmates who don’t want to go back to prison, told me: “Most of our folks have felt apart from as opposed to a part of for most of their lives.”
So, in addition to helping clients find jobs and housing or continue their education, Latif encourages them to volunteer for food banks and other community projects. It’s a way to get back in touch with the empathy they had to switch off in order to be successful criminals.
I don’t want to make too much of the parallels. Still, Emily Smith, who directed a project to help military veterans re-connect with civilian life, told me: “A lot of these guys feel they don’t fit into society anymore.”
For some veterans, it may be because they find it difficult to reconcile themselves to the violence they committed on their nation’s behalf. Others feel civilians cannot or do not want to understand them.
In a survey of the public mood as we neared the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Pew Research Center interviewers spoke to 1,853 veterans, among them 712 who served after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, and to 2,003 adult non-vets. The researchers found that 84 percent of the veterans of the war on terror believe the general public “has little or no understanding of the problems that those in the military face.” Among the non-vets, 71 percent agreed.
Some 4 million Americans served in the active-duty military during the first decade after 9/11. Pew researchers offered some telling comparisons: 8.7 million Americans were in the armed forces during the 1963-1973 Vietnam conflict; during the four years of U.S. involvement in World War II, 16.1 million Americans served.
The Pew researchers went on to say:
“Since 1973, there has been no military draft. So unlike other U.S. wars waged in the past century, the post-9/11 conflicts have been fought exclusively by a professional military and enlisted volunteers. During this decade of sustained warfare, only about 0.5 percent of the American public has been on active duty at any given time. (At the height of World War II, the comparable figure was nearly 9 percent.) As a result of the relatively small size of the modern military, most of those who served during the past decade were deployed more than once, and 60 percent were deployed to a combat zone.
“The American public is well aware that the sacrifices the nation was called upon to make following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have not been borne evenly across the military-civilian divide. More than eight-in-ten Americans (83 percent) say that members of the military and their families have had to make “a lot of sacrifices,” while just 43 percent say the same about the public as a whole.
“But even among those who say the military’s sacrifices have been greater than the public’s, seven-in-ten say they see nothing unfair in this disparity. Rather, they say, it’s “just part of being in the military.”
Smith is helping to lead a project in Montrose, Colorado that takes a different approach. The project, now called the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans, was founded on the premise that the gap between veterans and civilians has to be closed to heal America.
Welcome Home started with the idea that civilians could do more for vets. It turns out that the key thing civilians could do was give vets a chance to serve. Just as Latif does with former prisoners.
For more about Latif’s efforts, here’s an article I wrote: https://www.equaltimes.org/us-helping-former-prisoners?lang=en#.WpWS_ejwaUk
For more about Welcome Home, look for my new book: https://www.amazon.com/Home-Brave-Veterans-Community-Together/dp/1785356364