Last week, Ron Zaleski was invited to the Union Correctional Institution (UCI) for the third time in the last three years. The Long Walk Home hosted a pizza party and Christmas get together for 100 incarcerated Veterans. Each Veteran received gift bags, which were prepared by staff and volunteers at our December cover dish. The gift bags included personal journals, letters, a deck of cards, and a variety of snacks.

Each time The Long Walk Home visits UCI, we are amazed at just how grateful these Veterans are to be in the company of others. Many of the inmates at UCI are serving a life sentence, and some never receive visitors. Our organization believes in sharing compassion, even to those who have made terrible mistakes. There is no erasing their crimes, but today is a new day. To keep hope alive, we must believe that people can change. Even a prisoner facing a life-sentence can find a way to repent and become a better person.

UCI is unique in that all the Veterans live together in one dorm. There is a Military-like comradery that exists there, which is unusual compared to most other prisons. Many strong and long-lasting friendships have been built, and there has been only one instance of violence in the four years since the program was created. Last year, Ron donated two copies of his book, The Long Walk Home: A Veteran’s Barefoot Journey Across America, to the prison’s library.

Change does not occur overnight, and creating it requires constant work and attention. Knowing this, The Long Walk Home is developing its 10 challenge program for the Veterans at UCI . These 10 challenges are designed to help them tackle the common obstacles faced in day-to-day life. Expressing gratitude, apologizing to others, mending broken relationships, and developing better habits are just a few of the practices that the challenges teach. Many inmates lack outside support and have seemingly burnt all their bridges, so they ultimately grow even more resentful. By working with them on a more human level, The Long Walk Home believes it can help break this cycle and create a positive shift in them.

After the party our organization received a handwritten note from one of the inmates, expressing their most sincere thanks. The Long Walk Home’s visit to UCI gives us hope that people can change, regardless of their circumstances. It reminds us of the power of spreading kindness to others, especially during this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

A handwritten note from an incarcerated Veteran.

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