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Washington Corrections Center Site for First American Legion Post at Washington Prison

June 7, 2016

Submitted by Dean Mason

Department of Corrections

From Left to Right: DOC Veteran’s Representative Stephen Gonczi, American Legion Post 11 District Commander Mike Batnick and Incarcerated Veteran American Legion Post 11 members Terry Herbert, Don Randall, Fred Riddell and Daniel Maughan

SHELTON - Incarcerated Veterans at the Washington Corrections Center have a place to call their own, thanks to the American Legion Post 11. The American Legion Post 11 agreed to set up a post at WCC. The new post, established in January, combined with the existing incarcerated veterans group at the prison. It’s the first American Legion post to ever be established at a Washington State prison, according to Stephen Gonczi, a DOC employee who leads the post.

The American Legion is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is also the nation’s largest wartime veteran’s organization. The U. S. Congress chartered the organization in 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization. It has over 2.4 million members at more than 14,000 posts worldwide, according to the American Legion organization’s website. The organization prides itself in its grassroots involvement in the legislative process from local districts to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and provides a variety of veteran support services in areas like finding employment, receiving job training, accessing health care and life counseling, financial assistance and using education benefits. The organization also raises millions of dollars in donations annually at the local, state and national levels to help veterans and their families during times of need and to provide college scholarships

Gonczi, who served in the U.S. Navy for 24 years, has been working with incarcerated veterans at WCC since 2011. He, along with the incarcerated veterans, are members of the new post. As members of the American Legion Post 11, veterans hold structured monthly group meetings that include activities outlined in the official American Legion Manual of Ceremonies such as opening and closing rituals, posting of the colors, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, chaplain’s prayer, and reciting the preamble to the American Legion’s constitution in unison. They also set up a MIA/POW table at each meeting.

The American Legion Post 11/Veterans Group has a six-member board of whom incarcerated veteran members vote for each year to assume leadership roles and coordinate the group’s business and activities. The leadership skills incarcerated veterans refined during their years of service translate well into activities of the American Legion and it also helps them serve as a model for other incarcerated veterans, according to Gonczi.

“Some of the most important group expectations are proactive involvement, setting the right example, proper conduct, and getting back to the military Core Values – all very essential to successful offender programming,” Gonczi said.

Several DOC employees and representatives from the American Legion worked with Gonczi together to establish the new post. DOC Veterans Services Manager Teri Herold-Prayer spearheaded the idea, which was also supported by WCC Assistant Superintendent Dean Mason and the facility’s Superintendent, Pat Glebe. Glebe is a former superintendent for Stafford Creek Corrections Center and was a key player in launching the facility’s veterans “pod,” a special living unit for incarcerated veterans at Stafford Creek. Glebe used his experience in working with incarcerated veterans to establish the new post at WCC. Post 11 District Commander Mike Batnick and Mr. Jody Johnson, an American Legion member and past district commander, also worked with Gonczi on establishing the post and making membership available to incarcerated veterans.

How Veterans may join an American Legion Post

All veterans may attend American Legion Post meetings; however, official membership is not automatically extended. Veterans must meet two criteria in order to be eligible:

  • Received an Honorable Discharge, and
  • Must have served during specific periods of combat

Annual membership fees are $40.00. Incarcerated veterans can pay a reduced fee of $10.00.