By Shon Pernice
I have a firm stance on not accepting assistance from anyone. If a person wants to share some food, beverages, or other items, I prefer they give them to someone less fortunate. If another wants to spend money on me, I'd rather they donate it to one of my favorite charities, or most recently, purchase yarn for our Pay It Forward program. I hold this position due to the fact that I took someone's life. I destroyed a family, left two sons without parents, and murdered one of God's children. I have taken enough; my debt is to give - no exceptions.
A week ago, I met with Jimmie, a Vietnam veteran, to go over some VA paperwork, explore his benefits, and put him in for a medal through the Missouri Veterans Recognition Program. We have been waiting over a year to get Jimmie's DD-214 (military discharge papers). We've encountered various obstacles, but finally obtained it. Jimmie and I have known each other since I arrived at Moberly Correctional Center in 2013. He encouraged me to join VVA Chapter 70 as an associate member. For the past six years, we've only spoken of prison issues, the VVA, and other small talk. I did know that he was an in-country Vietnam vet, but he never spoke much of it. After he handed me his DD-214, I did my usual check of service dates and discharge status. As I got to the awards box, my eyes got as big as cantaloupes: Jimmie has a valor award CIB (combat infantry badge), the Vietnam Service Medal with a bronze service star, and an air medal, just to name a few. I said, "Damn, Jimmie. You saw some stuff!" He nodded his head with a half smile. As a combat vet, I know that look: you're glad that someone notices what you did, but leave it at that. I continued on and we completed various VA forms and benefit requests. Jimmie smiled at me and told me how he asked for help 25 years ago concerning agent orange exposure. Nobody would help him. He has several health issues, but his primary concern is his wife and children. Jimmie said he didn't know how to thank me for this. I thought for a moment and then I figured it out - I asked Jimmie if we would pray with me. Without hesitation, two combat vets, different eras, different races, same situation, thanked the Lord for His love and grace. Jimmie gave his heart to Jesus at that very moment.
Several months prior, I completed a rigorous course titled Care and Counsel for Combat Trauma. I had received a scholarship through Patriots of Valor to pay for my studies. The program was filled with excellent information. Aside from helping myself heal during the course, the objective was for me to go on and facilitate a group at the prison in order to reach other veterans. Resources and therapy are lacking for incarcerated veterans. I was putting off starting a class until the fall. I worked at a prison industry job making 50 cents an hour, which is premium pay. I was being selfish. I was choosing extra food, superior hygiene products, snack cakes, coffee, and candy over those that may need my help. The suicide rate for veterans is at a crisis level and homeless vets still are struggling. My guys need help, but I was choosing comfort items over virtues.
I flipped through my Bible the evening I helped Jimmie and two verses jumped out: Job 29:21 - 22 "Men listened to me and waited, and kept silence for my counsel. 22 After my words they did not speak again, and my speech settled on them as dew." Proverbs 19:21 "There are many plans in a man's heart. Nevertheless the Lord's counsel - that will stand." I knew what I had to do: quit my premium prison job, start focusing on facilitating a PTSD course, and spend more time doing what a combat medic does - preserve life. God's calling, my mission, my destiny, moral restitution - you decide.
The next step would affect me financially, but humbling oneself has never been a sin. I quit my job on Friday. It was scary and took a leap of faith. I was worried about telephone time (five cents per minute), postage stamps, paper, envelopes, pens, and basic hygiene costs. I know some of the veterans would help me out with canteen items, but I don't want to take from them. Where is my faith in Him? Suck it up soldier - focus on your mission.
Monday, April 1st, I opened my email from Patriots of Valor. They are happy that we are connecting on the telephone and are excited about getting a PTSD program started inside this institution. They want to assist me with the costs of telephone time and getting the course going. I now see the Lord working in my life. It is hard to resist heavenly peer pressure. My firm stance on refusing outside help has been shattered.
I am now advocating for the start of the PTSD program through Patriots of Valor and CRU Military Ministry. As I petition staff for permission, I am enlisting veterans to fill out applications for the scholarship. We are battling an unseen enemy and the invisible wounds are a challenge for the long term. Emotional and spiritual injuries are still open amongst these men. As I trust in the Lord, it's time to focus on post-traumatic growth.
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