On November 6th, The Long Walk Home and several local volunteers prepared gift bags for Veteran inmates at the Union Correctional Institution (UCI). Venice Gardens Civic Association was gracious enough to provide our organization with the space to put together the packages. The gift bags included personal journals, handwritten letters, and a variety of snacks.
Ron Zaleski, is visiting UCI today (December 8th), where he will give a speech and host a Christmas pizza party for the Veterans there. This is the third time that Ron has been invited to UCI to speak to the Veterans. In the past he’s talked about self-growth, gratitude, and forgiveness–words that have resonated deeply with many of the prisoners.
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.
Our organization believes in spreading kindness, even to those who have made terrible mistakes. Many of the Veterans at Union Correctional Institution have been incarcerated for life and will never see freedom again. 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.
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.