LAND O’ LAKES — A new unit in the Pasco County jail has been opened to help a particular segment of the inmate population: military veterans.
The pod, which holds 32 men and can accommodate as many as 48, will be used to connect inmates with the Vet Center, giving them access to programs including counseling and job and home searches.
At no cost to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the University of South Florida is bringing its veteran therapy program to the jail.
“By giving them the opportunity to get back on their feet, and that’s really what this is,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said. “They served their country; they have proven to us as a nation that they can do the right thing. This is about an opportunity for them to lift themselves up, back on their feet again, and be productive members of society.
“We’re changing the jail in that this is no longer just about housing, this is about transforming people to be who they used to be before they committed a crime or fell into issues with substance abuse or mental health issues,” Nocco said.
Starting the pod for military veterans was something Capt. Ray Revell wanted to do because of his military past.
He went through 10 weeks of training between July and September 2012 at the FBI training center in Quantico, Va., and then began working with the sheriff’s office to put the unit together.
In the brief amount of time it has been established, inmates have noticed a difference.
“I guess you can say it’s the camaraderie,” said Jerry Arnette, a former member of the Navy. “Being in here, everyone is military. You can talk about your service. You can talk about issues you have had since service. Find out information (from) other service members that can help you out more.”
Arnette, 36, was arrested in July 2013 for his third offense of driving under the influence. He said he had planned on making the Navy a career, but after two years, it came to a tumultuous end. He said he was discharged honorably under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Once it became known he was gay, the abuse began and eventually drove him out of the military, he said.
That began his spiral into depression and drinking, he said.
The program at the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center will help Arnette cope with the depression and drinking.
“Let’s take a small population, concentrate our efforts. And how better to do that than to identify veterans from our community and get them the help they’ve already earned,” Revell said.
Brian Anderson, of Pasco County Veterans Services and director of Pasco County Standdown, said Pasco County is the perfect location. He said in 2011, the number of homeless veterans doubled, a group vulnerable to possibly ending up in jail.
“The thing is veterans — the younger veterans coming home and the older ones — they are a different population from our civilian population,” Anderson said. “They actually sacrificed part of themselves for the better cause of America. ... They do kind of deserve something a little bit more. Some of the issues they’re facing that lands them in predicaments like this are probably attributed to the service they gave.”