As a teenager, Julius Berger joined the Marines.
“It taught me a lot of discipline, integrity, you know, get along well with others,” says Berger.
He also picked up something else.
“Unfortunately, when I was in the Marine Corps, I developed a drinking habit, and my DWIs is what landed me here,” says Berger.
A growing number of veterans are ending up in prison, most often because of alcohol and drugs. In Virginia, one of every 10 prisoners once served in uniform, with honor.
“We had that in the beginning, but somewhere down the line we kind of lost our way,” says Berger.
This is their chance to find it. The veterans at Indian Creek Correctional Center are now housed together in one building, like a barracks. It’s part a new program just for veterans called “Mission Recovery.”
“How do you re-instill that sense of purpose that they once had in a setting like this?” asked NewsChannel 3’s Mike Mather.
“That`s the challenge. You hit the nail on the head. We believe with the right mentoring and with the right programming, we can get them back on the straight and narrow so when they come out, they can be the productive citizens they were when they were in the military,” says Marla Graff Decker, secretary of public safety.
“This program is beautiful. This is the best thing the prison system can offer,” says Reuben Riddick.
If Riddick sounds like an expert on prison programs, he might be.
“This is my third time in prison,” says Riddick.
The Army veteran from Chesapeake’s Crestwood neighborhood also drank too much in the service. And once out, he ran into more trouble.
Going back to my same neighborhood, I was always told you should change people, places and things. I didn`t do it. I went right back to where I left off, that was drinking and doing drugs.
He says the veteran’s program has reached him like nothing else. He’s convinced that when he gets out in nine months, he’ll have the tools and the opportunities to keep it together.
It’s the same for Julius Berger. He’s earned a community-college degree. At 47, he’s applying to George Mason University.
“I want to just afford myself the opportunity to do something better with the second half of my life. I don`t want it to turn out like the first half of it,” says Berger.